How to Avoid Falling Victim to a “Catfish” Hoax

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The term “catfish” comes from the 2010 documentary film in which a young New Yorker named Nev Schulman has an online relationship with a woman on Facebook. Turns out the woman fabricated her entire life on the social network, and when Nev finally made plans to meet her in real life, he realized that everything she told him was a lie.

Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o had a similar online relationship with a 22-year-old woman named “Lennay Kekua”.Te'o and Girlfriend Throughout 2012, Kekua played with Te’o’s emotions as she fabricated traumatic events in her life, including a car accident that left her in a coma, a diagnosis of leukemia, and eventually her death.

Te’o’s story is a classic catfish case. That being said, it’s also a case of cyberbullying, or what some state laws refer to as cyberharassment, simply because someone used digital communication to purposefully inflict emotional harm to Te’o.

Te’o isn’t the only one that’s susceptible to being catfished, just like he isn’t the only one susceptible to being cyberbullied. Here are the signs to look out for to determine if you or your child may be at risk:

  1. You are using social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr to find people who are interested in dating online.
  2. You are dating someone exclusively on the Internet – meaning, you have not met them in real life.
  3. The person you’re involved with typically wants to keep the conversation on chat whenever you request video chat.

Here’s what you can do to avoid becoming a victim:

  1. Online dating is meant for adults, not kids and teens. There are a number of dating sites like match.com and eHarmony that perform background checks on their users.
  1. As an adult, if you decide to date someone online, regardless of where you meet them, something as simple as a Skype video chat or Facetime phone call can confirm if the person is real.
  2. Talk to your kids and teens. Dating at the right age should always and only involve people they know in real life, never with someone they meet online.
  3. The social sites your kids and teens are a part of should focus on their interests opposed to encouragement to date other users. At Yoursphere, the focus is on providing kids and teens with activities, games and fun things to do that support their interests and keep engaged in a positive manner.
  4. Never give out personally identifiable information. It’s why at Yoursphere we don’t ask for a kid’s home address, phone number or exact physical location, among other things. The same should hold true for adults. Avoid disclosing information like this even if the website you’re attempting to join asks for it.
  5. Online bullies and those who want to harass others feed on the emotions of people online. If you publicly announce that you’re depressed or lonely, you’re more likely to be a target of fake solicitations.

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