Depending on the situation, catfishing can mean standing on the riverbank with a spinning rod or reeling in some poor sucker on the internet who thinks he’s hooked by a supermodel/brain surgeon who enjoys his witty keyboard repartee and is enamored of his shirtless selfies.
The latter, it seems, is a growing problem.
Recently, I received an email pitch for a potential story on that very subject.
“Scott — Despite warnings from the FTC, a public NFL victim and an MTV reality show the number of catfishing victims increased by 50% in 2018 compared to three years ago,” wrote Haley, account executive for a public relations group. “Catfishing is when someone fakes an online identity to scam victims for money, romance or physical harm. These online relationships can last for months or even years!”
I liked that Haley and I were immediately on a first-name basis and for just a moment I thought we could have an online relationship that could last for months or even years, but then I realized she works at a PR firm and I work at newspaper and this was most likely a professional correspondence and not the beginning of something special so instead of emailing a shirtless selfie I began writing a column.
Haley told me the website SocialCatfish.com — described as a leading resource to verify online identities, though I can’t personally vouch for that until they hire me as a semi-celebrity spokesperson — released a study on the number of catfishing victims in each state based on FBI stats from 2018.
North Carolina, where I keep my fishing pole, ranked 10th with 432 reported victims. California topped the charts with 2,105 and Vermont ranked last with only 25 victims, but that’s still roughly 68 percent of that state’s population. (Note: I’ve since been told that 68 percent is a slight exaggeration and I have promised to do more research into Vermont’s demographics for future columns.)
In her email, Haley listed five signs that someone is being catfished. I have elaborated on them as a public service and it hopes of landing that sweet catfishing spokesperson deal:
1. If they ask for money. Let’s say you meet someone online, a supermodel/brain surgeon for instance, and that person says in an email, “I really liked your shirtless selfie. Can you send me $8,000 for a bus ticket so I can travel from Vermont to North Carolina to meet you in person?” that is a bad sign. A bus ticket costs about half that much.
2. If they can’t meet in person. If the next email says, “Thanks for the $8,000 but I won’t be able to make it down to see you. The Vermont bus is broken and they don’t know when it will be fixed” that is a bad sign. Vermont actually has two buses.
3. If they are stationed overseas. If the next email says, “The bus is fixed but I have been unexpectedly deployed by the Vermont National Guard to Japan to fight the Nazis” that is a bad sign. The Vermont National Guard has been deployed to Italy, according to my sources.
4. If they can’t video chat. If the next email says, “I would like to video chat with you but they don’t have the internet here in Japan” that is a bad sign. Japan got the internet two years ago, according to the same sources that told me the Vermont National Guard has been deployed to Italy.
5. If they seem too good to be true. If the next email says, “In addition to being a supermodel/brain surgeon, I run Vermont’s top PR firm and would like to hire you as a semi-celebrity spokesperson” that is a bad sign. Believe me, I know.
So take it from Haley, SocialCatfish.com, the great state of Vermont and me, don’t be a sucker and keep those shirtless selfies to yourself.
Hollifield is editor/general manager of The McDowell News in Marion, North Carolina, and a humor columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.