IN the contemporary era of social media, many users complain about fake accounts being created in their names. While the growing influence of social media brings awareness, it also makes us vulnerable to online frauds and scams. Catfishing is one of the most common and notorious activities on social media.

It is a deceptive practice of setting up a fictitious profile and using someone else’s data as a bait to control people. Catfishing is an act of impersonating someone to lure others into a financial fraud or entangle them into romantic relationships to exploit them.

In most cases, the ultimate goal of this malicious imposter is to extract money or personal details from people by harassing or blackmailing them. To be precise, it is like a combination of phishing and cyber-bullying.

According to a survey, many women and girls fall prey to this deceptive tactic. Therefore, it is important to look for the red flags and identify a catfish in order to keep ourselves safe from duping online.

A catfish avoids face-to-face communication and does not talk in person, over the phone or on video chat. S/he appears to be too sweet and friendly during interactions and try to build a good bonding within a short period. Sometimes, however, it is the contrary, and they appear too desperate for a video chat.

A catfish either has lots of friends of the opposite gender or only a handful of friends on social media. For instance, a female catfish would have a great number of male friends online. A quick glance at the profiles of friends may give an idea about what type of a person s/he could be. Conversely, a catfish may only have a few friends or no friends in their list which is quite unusual.

Most catfish have poor command over language and make a lot of mistakes in their texts and messages. The ultimate aim of these fraudsters is to gain money. Hence, they do bring up the matter sooner or later. They behave like victims of family, health or financial crises, and rake in money along with sympathies.

Once we have learnt to recognise the red flags, it is not hard to avoid a catfish. First thing first, we should behave sensibly while talking to unknown people on social media and be cautious in this regard. It is better to avoid accepting random friend requests or talking to strangers in order to be safe. Keep in mind that an online stranger can be equally dangerous as a real-life stranger. Therefore, if a random person is trying to be friends with you, it is wise to do some probing before accepting the request.

Catfish usually hide their identity and steal data, especially photos, from various social media platforms. Hence, it is advisable to search their photos on Google Reverse to check their credibility.

Catfishing and cyber-bullying go hand in hand. Catfish impersonate someone intentionally. Much like the cyber-bullies, they exploit the emotions of people, especially those who are emotionally vulnerable. The victims are mostly those who have somehow expressed their personal views and opinions online which have caught their attention. It is better to voice your opinions carefully and be alert while being active on social media.

Moreover, we should update our privacy settings regularly to avoid any breach of data and report these imposters to the relevant social media platform or to the cybercrime cell in case of a fraud.

Anwar Hafeez Solangi
Khirpur Mirs

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2021

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