In 2013, Manti Te’o was a college football star who was on his way to the big league. If people didn’t know who Te’o was before, they definitely knew of him after it was revealed he led his school team to a victory following the death of his grandmother and girlfriend, both whom died within 24 hours of each other. One problem, however. His girlfriend wasn’t real. In fact, she was a “catfish”.
Today, Te’o is a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, but four years ago he made international headlines after it was speculated that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, who supposedly died from leukemia, wasn’t a real person at all.
Te’o and Kekua had chatted on and off via text messages, online chats and over the phone from 2009 up until her so-called death in 2012.
This was the first time many people heard of the term “catfish” and what it was— someone who pretends to be someone they’re not on social media.
However, the reference to “catfish” dates back to a 2010 document, and now a TV show called Catfish, where a man named Nev Shulman meets a woman online named Abby and builds a romantic relationship with her.
Spoiler alert: “Abby” is not really Abby.
And even though it seems as if catfishing is on the rise among online daters, that’s not exactly the case, according to one social media expert.
“I don’t think catfishing is becoming more common,” said Bhupesh Shah, a coordinator of social media graduate certificate program at Seneca College, to Global News. “It’s just that more people are using online dating … so people are noticing it more.”
Shah said societal pressures may help explain why people lie about who they are or bend the truth about their appearance.
“Right now, there’s such a tight criteria,” Shah said about many who seek their ideal partner based on looks.
On Tinder and Bumble, it’s common for male users to put their height in their profile because some women might be looking for a taller partner. As well, women tend to post what is known as “full-body pictures” so those who come across their profile can see their figure.
Shah said some people catfish in order to get past the tight criteria established on these dating apps.
“Catfishing, to some, means getting past that hurdle,” said Shah. “The idea [for the catfisher] is that if you establish a relationship online, then whatever happens afterwards overrides everything.”
He explained that if two people who meet online seem to have a connection, despite one of them being a foot shorter than what they put in their profile, or a few pounds heavier than what their picture suggests, the online connection will prevail in the end.
But of course this isn’t always the case.
“It’s a horrible disappointment to the person who got catfished,” Shah said. “They then become more hesitant and afraid of being catfished again.”
Dr. Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, added that a catfisher will always be exposed in the end, whether their goal was to actually start a romantic relationship with the person they’re talking to, or simply malicious intent, such as boredom or financial gain.
The catfisher “can’t follow through — they have to know where it’s going,” Joordens said. “At some point, they have to realize they’re creating a mythology that will come crashing down in some way.”
Joordens said the reason people may fall victim to being catfished is because they’re flattered by someone who is showing an interest in them.
Tinder, Bumble and POF provide safety guidelines for using their services, including meeting people in a public area and never providing any financial information.
“We understand that fraud, including financial and phishing scams, is an issue,” Said POF in an email statement. “We work diligently to address it on both our website and app.”
The email statement went on to say that the company would not “disclose the specifics of our preventative processes and systems” for fear of tipping off who they call “predators.”
Also, if you believe you are talking to someone who may be misrepresenting who they say they are, you can always report the account within the apps itself.