People have often found themselves romantically or emotionally attached to someone that they feel like they have known for all their lives after a lengthy rapport on social media.
The picture presented to them online appeals to their emotions so that they believe them wholeheartedly. The truth is that the persona on social media is hyped up to simply trap them.
This is called “catfishing” where people conjure up fake personas online to lure different people into falling in love with them or generally getting to know them so they can benefit from them materially, sexually or emotionally.
Cat fishers present larger-than-life persona of wealth, body physiques, beauty and virtues online to their targets – the too-good-to-be-true illusionary images of themselves.
The rapport that ensues could initiate online dating for months or even years only for the one to be rudely shocked that what one got was indeed a raw deal.
When you finally meet them (if you are lucky to meet them), they are not what they purport to be or what their posts present to you – beautiful and glamorous. They are con men (women) who have perfected the art of embellishing qualities they do not actually have.
Rehema Mwambiije*, a university student was recently a victim of catfishing. “I met him on my WhatsApp group, he seemed like a nice, genuine, caring, loving and attractive person, he was my type – a kind of Mr. Right. We interacted on social media, messaged for a couple of months last year, several times arranged to meet each other but something always came up on his end. I did not realize that all that time I was being Catfished. I wouldn't have even considered that this person was fake!” she says.
Disguised low self-esteem
Noverty Deograthias, a counselor at InforPsych Center thinks that a whole complex combination of psychological factors are behind these self-exaggerated exhibitions on social media, including deep-sited inferiority complex.
“Dissatisfaction with self and one’s personality together with the urge to see themselves in a certain position in life drive people to post lies on social media.” Others are afraid of exposing themselves for who they are and would present a false picture of themselves. Say, someone is short or plumb would present themselves as slim and beautiful to the social media audience,” he said.
He further alluded that some escapists just want attention and pretend to be someone else because they're not self-confident enough while others catfish as a way to keep themselves busy.
“They often see it as an escape out of the life they don't necessarily want to live. They can be whoever they want to be online and don't feel as judged as they do in real life. There's the bored type who derive fun from it, seeking something to keep busy. They don't think about the effect it has on other people,” he said.
Another psychologist, Dr Isaac Lema also observes that people catfish because of various reasons including fear and hence the need for anonymity, the need to cope with the prevailing situations and need to create an “ideal” personality. Some of these actions are an ego boost for those with low self-esteem.
“There are many reasons that people seek to present larger than life picture of themselves and they have fixations to fill the void caused by stages they skipped in their lives. The urge to feel desired may also play a part. They mirror between person and the “ideal” person and fear of presenting themselves as they really are causes anxiety. Catfishing is an ego boost for those with low self-esteem,” said Isaac.
Catfishing for money
But in some cases, as has been reported, what cat fishers are actually after is your wallet and bank accounts, emotional support or ephemeral relationships without having to leave the comfort of their chairs.
Financial-driven catfishing should be separated from cases where either the intention takes precedent. In that case, someone deliberately posts photos and mildly hints at monetary considerations.
Here is a typical scenario. The voice of someone you hardly know at the other end of the line says this to you; “Sweetheart, I am stuck at the bank and the network is so low. Kindly advance to me some Sh500,000 payable on Sunday. I just got a freak accident, and need to fix a few things” or something like “I am a Rwandan or Ethiopian girl (of course with a fake post on Facebook or Instagram to prove it), looking for a man to marry me,” or some other fabricated lies. These are not new ploys in this era of internet.
When a post of near-nude but luscious, well-endowed woman depicting a generous bust and appealing backside, the stuff that lures most men was put online, John* did not hesitate to immediately communicate with “her” on the mobile number “she” had provided.
Trouble is when she asked for taxi fare to Kigamboni from Mbezi Beach, it was not too much considering that she had not asked for out-of-reach amount of money. After all, she promised a fun-filled night. It never came to be.
It dawned on him later that the “girl” on the other end of the line was actually a man when he flatly told John that he was a fool to have fallen for the trick. He had parted with Sh30,000 to an unknown catfisher.
Sources say that such catfishers often present themselves on social media as seeking serious men for marriage, relationship or casual sex.
Men on their part fall for the ruse hook, line and sinker. She may innocently ask for some kind of financial help be it airtime or taxi fare.
“They post pictures of very beautiful women, some nude and men fall prey to their own lust. Men picture these women as their life partners only to realise later that he has been cat-fished. In order to appear rich or women of substance, posts of large cars and houses do the trick,” a psychologist says.
“Assuming that such a woman asks for only Sh 2,000 from ten different men, she rakes in a cool Sh20,000. She may graduate to more asking for larger amounts and simple math indicates that if one parts with say, Sh30,000, the amount she is likely to make without lifting a finger is awesome,” says John
Deograthias further notes that being a catfish is often, but not always, a prelude to financial fraud and being able to trick or con someone is a kind of addictive thrill.
In the Get Safe Online Free Advice (www.getsafeonline.org), the blogger writes that for one to identify a catfish, the profile photos look staged (it is easy to use photo shop program) these days. A careful scrutiny should be able to tell the differences.
Furthermore, there is the tendency to overuse terms like trustworthy, genuine, rich, and sexy and others that paint a positive and rosy picture of one looking for a soulmate. The blogger further says that cat fishers will at a certain point ask for your number/WhatsApp and will tend to innermost objective in a relationship.
Some will “love bomb” you so much so that you will divulge so much information about yourself while they divulge very little about themselves – this is meant to make a “perfect” match out of you. Some will ask for money by talking about a disaster or other relatives or friends in difficult situations.
Sextortion is part of the game
Ask yourself this: isn’t anyone asking for intimate photos, videos or webcam chats before meeting you, disrespectful of someone really interested in a proper relationship? This behaviour may start with them asking for ‘sexy chat’ but will progress quickly.
As social media users grow in numbers, so does the number of people who use the different online platforms to dupe others.