What is a Personal Catfish?
It seems these Catfish are the lesser known of their type in the UK, as financial fraudsters using Catfishing as a platform for their ill gotten gains, get much more press space and in some cases can be prosecuted if the sums of money are large enough under the Fraud Act 2006. Most warnings on dating websites and other are geared towards these financial fraudsters and their tactics but who is to say that the hurt and after math of a Personal Catfish is any less devastating? Despite this imbalance, the name Catfish came from these very same personal online romance scam Catfish. They can still be sub divided.
Unlike the Catfish of the financial fraud world, these catfish have a more ‘personal’ motive for doing what they do.
The grooming technique is the same for all Catfish, however some may be more experienced and efficient at it.
The Personal Catfish
It would be hard to believe that most people have not come across the term Catfish by now but where did this term come from? You can find out on my What is a ‘Catfish’? post. I’m sure there are many more categories but for the purpose here I’m subdividing into these:
- self esteem
- cyber sex
- the offline Personal Catfish
Nev’s show has exposed some of these categories.
As has been seen in numerous episodes of ‘Catfish’, one of the motivators of hiding behind a fake profile and identity is the self esteem issues of the Catfish. Often, these individuals feel they are not worthy of having a relationship with ‘someone as handsome/beautiful’ as their target. They do not have the confidence to approach someone in person. So, they fulfil their fantasies online as someone else. Most of the time when uncovered, they can see the hurt they have caused, stringing out their target for years sometimes, making excuses as to why they can’t meet but hoping the romance can remain. Sometimes real feelings are reciprocated on both sides but in the main, the deceit, lies and broken trust means that the ‘relationship’ is over.
These are nasty. Aiming at specific targets, these Catfish are only interested in one thing. Their purpose is to bestow hurt and humiliation on someone they feel has done them a wrong first. Maybe it was rejection in the relationship, maybe it is a family member or close friend that feels they have been betrayed in the past.
As above, this form of Catfishing is equally nasty. Maybe known or unknown to the target, some individuals are simply bored and use this behaviour as a form of amusement and entertainment. Other people’s hurt doesn’t feature in their social skill set and they don’t see what they are doing as a problem. It’s just a bit of fun right? No it’s not.
This is where our Personal Catfish are upping the ante.
Using the same grooming techniques and love bombing, these Catfish may simply be miscreant versions of the revenge or joke Catfish, asking for intimate pictures/videos as part of the ‘joke’ which will add to the humiliation when the duping is exposed and worse as leverage for part of their game. However, some set out to use this added level of reprehensible behaviour as a way of getting their own needs met. Much like the behaviour of a paedophile who uses a fake profile to lure children into sexually explicit situations, these Catfish are after their own ‘gallery’ of images/videos from unsuspecting women/men.
Creating an online relationship gives an added level of power and excitement for the Catfish against simply looking at published pictures as they get to control and manipulate the target to ‘perform’ at their will under the guise of a relationship. Only if these pictures or videos are published online by the Catfish would our current legal system potentially prosecute under ‘revenge porn’ legislation. You can read about this here. If they simply ghost you when they have done with you or you find them out to be a fraud, the legal system will not touch them.
This kind of online emotional and or sexual abuse is not OK. Someone who sets up a fake profile with the intent to abuse and cause repeated emotional harm which may lead to physical harm is a bully. You can read more at the comprehensive Cyberbullying Research Centre site here.
The offline Personal Catfish
So here is mine. Potentially the ‘new breed’ of Catfish? This one dares to come out of the ‘water’ to pursue his fictional relationship in the flesh.
After building trust over a period of time (if that’s what they read the situation as needing with that particular target) and using the love bombing technique to get you hooked and attached, these Personal Catfish make the move to meet face to face. Setting expectations of patterns as far as work time and parental responsibilities, also came in these early stages. With most of his targets, ours had a tried and tested plan of getting ‘you to to invite him’ for coffee as an initial meeting. This was something several of us experienced from him. Under the cover of their ‘fake identity’ this Catfish type behaves in the way any other person starting a relationship may do (as is the preference of life style to that particular couple). The cover of a job that takes them away regularly is usual it seems, so they can be in multiple relationships at once.
Whether the Catfish themself is actually single or married, one thing is for sure, any promises they make you, about wanting a committed, longterm and loving relationship are lies. Their only motive for doing this is to lull you into a false sense of security about them so that they have control over you to get what they want.
My offline personal Catfish had the intention of sticking around for a while. He wasn’t interested in creating this fantasy life for one night stands. He wanted the ‘illusion of the relationship’ he said he wanted as his fake self. That way he got the best from me/us. It also meant he had to be thorough and clever in creating his back story and have things to make his fake life seem real to us.
Not only did my Catfish have a fake Face Book account, which had a network of friends within it and was used to portray things he spoke about in his fake life i.e likes for business, music, tv shows he wanted you to think he liked the same as you (all part of the grooming process), he also had fake emails, Skype accounts and several other Social media platforms to back up his fake identity. He also had a dedicated phone for his alias. Were his actions premeditated? In every way. Did his life seem real? Very much. But he had been doing this for over a decade with this alias. He was very experienced in his execution and had evolved his practise over time. His real job meant he was away from his wife and family all week in London, only returning at weekends where even then he did have periods of time in Europe as he claimed he did regularly under his alias.
Mine also used ‘sob stories’ with all of us. He constantly had you feeling sorry for him. This was all part of the emotional manipulation. It meant we didn’t add to his stressful situation and portrayal of a good man going through difficult times.
What does this say about the person behind the Catfish?
Who is worse? I’m not deliberating on the outcome for the victim here, as financial fraud catfish victims will have 2 lots of trauma to deal with in their scenario (emotional and potentially large sums financially), but the type of person that decides to ‘Catfish’? The catfish themselves can literally be anyone. Married, single, male or female posing as anyone they wish to be.
The financial fraudsters of the African scams (and similar) are doing this because they live such deprived lives, they see ‘Westerners’ as rich and privileged. I’m not making excuses, it’s wrong full stop but just observing the back grounds. The Personal Catfish isn’t seeking money as their motivation. They are not all ‘Walter Mitty’ type characters, they can have it all, and simply exploit vulnerable people because they think it’s their right and they want more. Yet the law will only prosecute financial fraud. It’s one to think about.
Shockingly, there is virtually no research into the emotional impact on non-financial loss victims in these scenarios (particularly those that have been exploited for sexual use). Maybe with the help of those that have had similar non-financial loss experiences, we can start to do our own as a way to force the hand of the justice system to act on both counts?