DEFINITION of Cat Fishing

Cat fishing is the term used when a cybercriminal creates a false online identity in order to defraud or steal a victim's identity. The term typically falls under the social engineering scheme where one or more individuals use deceptive tactics to retrieve personally identifiable information (PII) from unsuspecting victims.

How and Why a Person Engages in Cat Fishing

The world has become increasingly reliant on computers, and more people than ever are looking for a human connection online. Many people engage in short-term or long-term Internet relationships before they ever meet their partner in person. This makes it easy for someone to engage in cat fishing. A person can upload photos of someone else to trick others into thinking he or she looks a certain way: Photos can falsify age, gender, weight, hair color etc. The person can then engage in conversations that lead to online relationships, making up personal information in order to create the illusion that he or she is someone else entirely.

Reasons for cat fishing are personal for everyone, but they might range from boredom to loneliness, revenge to curiosity. Cat fishing is an easy way for someone to explore their own sexuality or escape insecurities about their appearances without consequences. The online stage makes it easy for someone to either dip their toes in and try cat fishing or to engage in a full-scale online relationship.

History and Etymology of Cat Fishing

Cat fishing entered the popular lexicon following the premiere of the 2010 MTV documentary "Catfish," although the trend certainly existed before the show made it famous. The incident that really brought recognition to the trend was when Manti Te'o, a star football player for Notre Dame, was a victim of cat fishing in 2013. The term referenced the tendency of fishermen to put catfish in with their cod catch to keep them moving while transporting them back, an attempt to keep the meat as fresh as possible.

Effects of Cat Fishing

Victims of cat fishing are often emotionally involved by the time they find out they've been deceived. The person doing the cat fishing might create excuses to avoid meeting in person, such as distance or personal issues, which allows the relationship to continue for an extended period of time.

The consequences can range from heartbreak to public shame or embarrassment for the victim, and there is no specific law against cat fishing; however, it is possible for the victim to bring the cat fish to justice by proving fraud, severe emotional distress, defamation of character, or harassment. Also, if the cat fish used someone else's photographs, that person has the right to claim misappropriation of likeness.

The act of cat fishing poses a threat to information security and everyone is encouraged to treat social messages and emails with caution, especially when they come from people that aren't recognized.