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Spotting fake profiles online.

What is a catfish?

A catfish or ‘catfishing’ is when someone creates fake profiles online and pretends to be someone else. They will often change their name, use someone else’s photographs, and can create an entirely new and fake identity.

More recently, people also use the term to describe people that have heavily edited their pictures on dating profiles or social media to look significantly different to real life.

Why do people create fake profiles?

There are lots of reasons why someone would create a fake identity online:

  1. To start friendships or romantic relationships online. Some people might create a fake identity online that they wish they had offline, or believe others will find more appealing. They may use attractive profile pictures, add lots of friends, share exciting stories, or give themselves skills and qualities they think others would find desirable in a friend or romantic partner.
  2. They might use it to bully and troll others, or seek revenge. Some people feel more confident online, and say and do things they wouldn’t say or do offline. A fake account can make people feel anonymous and think they won’t get caught.
  3. They use it to pressure or trick others into sending them money or nude images or videos. Some people hide behind a profile, or use attractive images to blackmail others online. This means they threaten to publically share personal information, including images and videos, about someone, unless they get what they want.

Warning signs

It’s not easy to spot a fake profile, and anyone can be targeted, including adults. It’s never your fault if someone has tricked you.  When speaking to people online, there are some  signs to look out for that someone might not be who they say they are:

  • They seem too good to be true.
  • They never want to video chat, or speak over the phone.
  • They pressure you into sharing nude or semi-nude images, or to take your clothes off on camera.
  • They offer you money in exchange for nude images or videos.
  • They tell you they have hacked into your webcam or computer history and have sexual images or embarrassing information about you. They may threaten to share this information unless you give them money.
  • They move quickly, telling you they like or love you soon after meeting online.
  • They ask you to send them money, saying that they need help and will give it back.
  • You have no mutual friends, or you have mutual friends but no one has met this person offline.
  • Their online profile is minimal and they only have a few pictures that are just of them or are of a sexual nature.

What to do if you think you've been catfished

  1. Block and report. If you think someone you are talking to is not who they say they are, it’s best to delete and block them from the account you are communicating with them on. You can also report them to the platform or site.
  2. Talk to someone who can help. If you think you’ve been catfished, you may feel scared or embarrassed. Remember, this could happen to anyone and it isn’t your fault. Talking to a trusted adult, like a teacher or family member, or using a support service can really help.
  3. Report to CEOP. If you think you are being blackmailed, or sexually abused online, you can report to CEOP.
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See all help

Online blackmail

Sexual abuse

How blackmail can happen online and how to get help if you need it.

Meeting up with someone you met online


Safer ways to meet your online friends in person.