You’ve met someone online who seems to check all the boxes. Any moment now, there will be red roses and hearts to look forward to, right? Not if your instinct is telling you to worry about red flags.
The sad reality is that catfishers thrive on Facebook, Instagram, Tinder and even dedicated dating sites, and they have plenty of ways to hide behind a fake or cloned photo. It’s very easy for them to conceal their true identity — unless you know the clues to look for.
Here are 11 common signs of a catfishing photo and how to catch a catfish.
1. They’re Really, Really, Ridiculously Good Looking
If their profile photo hits you with Blue Steel or Magnum right off the bat, they’re probably as fictional as Zoolander himself. Catfishers are confidence tricksters and they know that the most effective scams to trigger desire. If their photo looks as if it should be on the cover of a magazine, it’s time to question what their message is doing in your DMs (no offense).
In particular, this applies to photos that are suggestive, raunchy or use nudity liberally. When you can’t believe your luck, you probably shouldn’t.
2. They’re Really, Really Bad at Photoshop
A creepier spin on stealing someone else’s photo is to simply borrow their body. It’s not that difficult in Photoshop or with other editing software to add your head to someone else’s physique or tweak what you’re working with to something more attractive. But unless you’re very skilled at editing, the telltale clues are usually easy to spot, like mismatching skin tones or background lines that are askew.
3. It’s Their Only Photo
Most social media profiles show a timeline of photos that include both spontaneous moments and major events, such as graduations, birthday parties, vacations and so on. But if you’re dealing with a catfish, it’s highly likely that whatever photos you will find on their profile show someone from a single moment in their (fictitious) life only. If there’s no history, there’s probably no future. Furthermore, don’t be fooled by quality over quantity. Some catfish will use a provocative or sexy photo to grab attention, but it’s likely to be a screenshot from an adult site or similar source. Ask yourself if you would normally introduce yourself to a stranger in the nude…
4. One Photo on More Than One Account
Luckily, it’s easy to run a reverse photo lookup on a profile picture. If you find that the photo in question appears on more than one profile or account, especially under different names, you can consider your investigation closed. The catfisher has clearly cloned a stolen identity and will not be stealing your heart.
5. Professional Headshots
It’s not just good-looking people to watch out for. If a photo looks too professional, that’s a red flag too. Most likely, the scammer has scanned a photo from a yearbook, corporate website or LinkedIn profile. The options are endless.
Scammers do this to avoid revealing anything in the background that could be a clue to the location — which could take them one step closer to their own professionally taken mugshot.
6. No Other People Pictured
There’s nothing unusual about someone sending you a picture of themself only, or a profile picture that is of them alone. But if there are no other people featured at all on their social media profile, alarm bells should be ringing. No friends, family or group pictures? That’s just how a catfisher likes it; but it’s your cue to be suspicious.
7. No Identifiable Locations
This one can work both ways, because a professional scammer will have a ready-made backstory to go with their photo featuring the Eiffel Tower or Great Barrier Reef, which can enhance the deception. A busy fraudster can’t be bothered. As a result, none of the photos they share can be pinned to a specific location (even easy-to-miss details such as license plates or street signs).
If there are location identifiers, do your own research and mine their story for inconsistencies or factual errors. Even the professionals slip up under pressure.
8. They Won’t Send New Pics
You may be chatting and texting with your new online friend in real time, but as soon as you ask for a photo the communication goes cold. One of the easiest ways to catch a catfish is to ask for a selfie featuring their apparent location as a backdrop. If they can’t, you can be confident that they’re nowhere near and probably not who they say they are. If you really want to hit them with an old-school technique, ask them to pose with a copy of that day’s newspaper.
Be warned, however, that if they are genuine, it would be their turn to see a red flag under those circumstances — for your paranoia.
9. They Haven’t Aged
Not all of us post our baby pics or school photos on our social media profiles, even less so on a dating website. We probably have one saved somewhere for someone who asks, however. If you ask your online friend for a picture of them when they were younger and they can’t present one, it could be because they’re simply using a headshot they’ve copied. It’s not a failsafe check, but it’s worth asking just to gauge their reaction and potentially stop a kittenfisher in their tracks.
10. “I Am McLovin”
If you’re lucky, the photo will be so fundamentally mismatched with their story that you can block and report them in the blink of an eye. For example, their photo appears to be years younger than the age listed on their profile, they look nothing like how they’ve described themselves or you just have a sneaking suspicion that the sweet college girl in the photo writes like a middle-aged man.
Luckily, that’s exactly the level some of the more inept catfishers are working at and their attempts are so hopelessly bad that it’s almost amusing.
How To Catch a Catfish From Their Photo
The same technology they use to trick their victims can be turned against them. Start with a reverse image search to expose cloned photos. You’ll see every online location where those pictures have appeared before. If you are at the stage where you have started sharing personal information, or it’s already visible on the platform, confirm your suspicions with a reverse phone number search or email search to reveal their true identity. With Spokeo’s tools at your disposal, you can protect yourself from a catfish.