Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o claims to have been the victim of an elaborate online hoax. MTV's Catfish is a show about a similar online romance, one which also raises doubts about its authenticity.
Online impersonation with the intent of engaging in a relationship is becoming more common. Similar to identity theft, which is when someone steals personal identifiable information from a victim and uses that information in the commission of a crime (fraud etc) -- Catfishing is when someone "assumes" a real person's identity and/or creates a new online persona to engage in an online relationship.
Phishing, which is related to Catfishing, is a common tactic used by online criminals to lure unsuspecting victims to do something which may lead to identity theft or other nefarious activities.
The reality is that this could happen to anyone that uses the Internet. Your own online persona could be used as a "catfish" profile or you might be duped into believing someone isn't who they purport to be. Here are some tips to keep yourself from becoming a victim of a Catfish:
1. Don't share what you consider "private information" online:
You should control your online persona. Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter are all amazing technologies but can all be used against you in one way or another. In order for someone to victimize you, they will need to know as much as possible about their target. For example, if you Google your name, what comes up? Common results for most people would be interests/pictures/videos/biographical information/location/employeer/email address/social media accounts, etc.
Any of this information could be used to "groom" your relationship -- for example -- If you participate in online dating websites, and someone wants to "impress you" they might want to do research into your background. The more "private information" that you have online in a public manner the easier it will be to become a victim.
2. Treat your online relationships the same you would real-life ones
If you were approached at the store by a complete stranger, would you start a meaningful relationship with them? Would you want your real-life friends to know that you associate with strangers? If you answered "no" then why would you do so online? STRANGER DANGER! If our children understand it, why can't we?
The power of online relationships can also cause your online friends to blindly trust your friends. For example, Facebook will suggest friends to you based on your friends friends. This causes a potentially false sense of safety on social networks.
3. Track your online persona to prevent from becoming used as Catfish profile
- Brandyourself.com is a free service that will help you manage your online profile. If you sign up for this service, you will receive regular updates to any changes to your online "Google" presence. Oh, and it's free.
- Google Alerts are extremely powerful. If you ask Google to notify you whenever your name appears on the Internet, it will. For example, I have a Google Alert programmed to send me an email the second it sees "Jonathan Rajewski" on any webpage that it indexes. Oh, and it's free.
Perform reverse image searches using free or pay services to see if your pictures are being used online -- TinEye.com is an example.
4. Know your local laws/social media policy
Some states consider impersonating an online persona illegal -- California, Washington,Texas, and New York currently have laws on the books.
5. Understand social media privacy policies
What you think is private today, might not the next. When Facebook, Instagram or other services change their privacy settings it could place all of your "private" information in the public eye. Remember if you're not paying for the service, you're the product.