You’ve been online dating for a while, and you think you’ve finally met your match. They’ve got an attractive profile photo, they say all the things you want to hear, they say they’ve got a great job, and they seem genuinely into you. But before you let them sweep you off your feet, it’s worth asking yourself: Could this person be a catfish?

Catfishing — which is when a person sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes — is incredibly common. According to FBI data, catfishing cases have increased by nearly 200% in the last couple of years, with little sign of slowing down. Many catfish will scam people out of money with promises of a cryptocurrency investment opportunity or a sad story about a loved one who needs medical care. 

We’ve gathered interesting statistics about catfishing, along with tips on how to spot a catfish and how to online date safely

1. About 1 in 11 Americans Have Been Catfished 

According to an August 2022 YouGov survey, 9% of Americans say they have been the victim of catfishing. The poll defined catfishing as “the use of a false identity online to deceive people, often with the aim of getting them to pursue what they think is a romantic relationship.” 

63% of poll respondents haven't encountered a catfish.

Adults aged 18-29 and 30-44 were the most likely to report being catfishing victims, at 14% and 13%, respectively. 

The poll also found that 7% of American adults say a family member has been catfished; 8% say it’s happened to a close friend and 9% say it has happened to an acquaintance. 

2. And 1 in 5 Adults Under 30 Know a Catfisher

Additional data from YouGov’s August 2022 poll found that 20% of 18-to-29-year-olds personally know someone who has catfished someone else. Among 30-to-44-year-olds, 16% do, while just 5% of 45-to-64-year-olds and 2% of those 65 and older know a catfish. 

Among survey respondents overall, 10% said they know someone who has catfished someone else while 81% do not. 

3. Catfishing Has Increased Almost 200% 

An analysis of FBI and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data revealed some startling catfishing statistics. Their research found that the average number of quarterly reports of catfishing jumped from 3,131 in 2019 to 8,596 in 2022, an increase of more than 174%. 

Additional analysis suggests there are approximately four times as many reports of catfishing scams in 2023 (when the research was published) as there were in 2019. 

4. Catfishing Is a Multimillion Dollar Industry

It’s very unsettling to think about how much time a catfish might invest in their scam. Just think about how many hours go into creating profiles, swiping or searching for matches, and having conversations that are long and thoughtful enough that a person lets their guard down.

It’s a ton of time, but it can also lead to a ton of money in the scammer’s pocket.

Catfish victims lose $100 million a year in the U.S.

The data analysis found that the amount of money lost to catfishing in the U.S. exceeds $100 million per year. “Catfishing fraud accounted for $32.9 million in money lost by victims at the start of 2019, a number that rose to $141.8 million two years later at the start of 2022, a 331% increase,” according to report officials. 

Their research looked at the average dollar amount lost per case. For cases involving victims between 20 and 29 years old, the average amount lost was $3,679. The average amount lost in cases involving people 80 or older was far larger: $30,448. 

5. Over 40% of Catfishers Said They’re Lonely

While scammers are pretty much in it for the money, some catfish may have more complicated motives. Researchers from the University of Queensland Australia did a small study in which they asked people from around the world who self-identified as catfish why they do it.

Among other findings, researchers discovered that 41% of the participants mentioned loneliness as a reason for catfishing. Around one-third mentioned being dissatisfied with their physical appearance, and more than two-thirds mentioned a desire to escape. 

“I pretend to be a man as I would prefer to be in the male role.” — anonymous catfisher

Some respondents indicated they were using false identities online to explore their sexuality or gender identity. One survey-taker wrote, “I was catfishing women because I am attracted to women but have never acted on it … I pretend to be a man as I would prefer to be in the male role of a heterosexual relationship than a female in a homosexual relationship.”

Let’s not feel too sympathetic for catfishers though. Additional research published in Computers in Human Behavior found that people who perpetuated catfishing behaviors had higher psychopathy, higher sadism, and higher narcissism. According to the researchers, sadism in particular was a strong predictor of catfishing. 

6. Women Are More Likely to be Catfish Victims  

Women are more likely than men to be victims of catfishing, and men are proportionally more likely to perpetuate catfishing, according to a 2020 study published in Sexual and Relationship Therapy called “Adult attachment and online dating deception: a theory modernized.”

The study analyzed people’s attachment styles to determine their likelihood of perpetuating or being a victim of catfishing. Interestingly, people with anxious attachments are more prone to perpetuate catfishing as well as be the victims of it. 

“Perhaps concerns of rejection and distrust about one’s own self-worth motivate the deceptive self-presentation that underlies catfish perpetration by highly anxious individuals,” Theresa E. DiDonato Ph.D. said in a Psychology Today article that referenced the study. “Maintaining a relationship without putting the self at risk might allow for relational closeness while protecting the self.” 

7. About Half of Online Daters Have Encountered a Scam

Even if you’ve never been catfished out of thousands of dollars or been emotionally devastated by a scam, you’ve likely gotten a weird feeling about at least one of your online matches.

Pew Research Center data collected in July 2022 found that 52% of online daters surveyed say they’ve encountered someone on a dating site or app who they think was trying to scam them.

52% of online daters have seen a catfisher

Men between 18 and 49 are especially likely (63%) to say this has happened to them. Fewer (42%) women in this age range say this has happened to them.  

Among people 50 to 64 years old, 50% of men and 54% of women say this has happened to them. Among people 65 and older, 41% of men and 38% of women say they’ve encountered someone they think was trying to scam them on a dating app. 

8. Alaska & Nevada See the Most Catfishing Victims

Catfishing analysts found the states with the most catfishing scam victims are Alaska, with 11.9 incidents of catfishing per 100,000 people, and Nevada, with 11.2 incidents per 100,000 people. Other states with a high number of catfishing victims are Wyoming (9.5), Arizona (9.0) and the District of Columbia (9.0). 

The states with the fewest catfishing victims are Louisiana (3.8), Mississippi (4.3), and Iowa (4.4). 

Of course, people are getting catfished in every state, so it’s important to keep an eye out for it no matter where you live. 

9. About 24% of Romance Scammers Will Use the Same Exact Line

The FTC looked at all the romance scams that had been reported to the organization in 2022 and did some keyword analysis to see what exactly catfish were saying to hopeful daters to swindle them out of money. 

The analysis found that 24% of romance scammers use the same lie: “I or someone close to me is sick, hurt, or in jail.”

Common catfish lies include

This creates a sense of urgency that may cause the victim not to think clearly. Most of us want to be helpful when someone is in distress, especially if it’s someone we have a connection to — and that’s exactly what scammers prey on. 

Other common lies that catfish use include “I can teach you how to invest,” (18%) “I’m in the military far away,” (18%) or “I need help with an important delivery” (18%).

10. FBI Data Finds That Cryptocurrency Scams Are on the Rise 

A 2022 article published in The New York Times explored a disturbing trend of cryptocurrency scammers targeting people on dating apps and websites. One of the subjects of the article, Tho Vu, sent more than $300,000 worth of Bitcoin, nearly her entire life savings, to someone who turned out to be a scammer. 

FBI data referenced in the article found that cryptocurrency scams on dating apps and websites are increasingly common. Between January 2021 and July 2021, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 1,800 complaints related to online romance scams, resulting in losses of approximately $133.4 million. 

How to Spot a Catfish on Dating Sites 

While many catfish use sophisticated methods, some are pretty easy to spot right away. Here are a few indicators that the person you’re chatting with is a catfish. 

1. Their Profile Has Practically No Information or Photos 

One of the most common signs that someone is a catfish is a profile with little to no information or photos. When you think about it, someone who’s truly interested in meeting people to date or hook up with would have something in their profile about their interests and what they’re looking for, right? 

And if your profile is blank or nearly blank, consider this a wakeup call: You’re missing out on matches because people probably think you’re a scammer!

2. A Reverse Image Search Turns Up Suspicious Results

If you’re thinking someone might be a catfish, you can run their photos through a reverse image search. If they’re using a generic stock photo or a photo from someone else’s online profile, this is a pretty clear indicator that they’re not who they say they are. 

Additionally, running their photos through an image search can potentially lead you to the social media profiles where they originated.

Screenshot of Google
Google has a reverse image search function that can catch catfishing photos.

If a picture’s social media profiles seem to align with the information on the dating profile, that’s a good sign. If they seem to contradict or they don’t match what you know about them from the dating app.

For instance, the catfishing person told you they work in finance but the LinkedIn profile you found is for a middle school teacher — that might be a sign they’ve lifted someone else’s photos to misrepresent themselves. 

3. Their Writing Has a Ton of Grammar or Spelling Mistakes

Another common indicator of a catfish can be a lot of grammar and spelling mistakes on their profile or in their messages. Of course, this might just be because your catfish is not a native English speaker. 

Coupled with other red flags like no profile photos or a fishy social media presence, this may indicate that you’re being catfished by someone in another country. 

4. They’re Asking You For Money

This is about the biggest red flag you could encounter in online dating. After a certain amount of messaging, a catfish will create elaborate and false stories designed to convince you to send them money. 

They’ll tell you they’re in a dire situation and need your help. Maybe, they’ll say, they were traveling for business and they got robbed. Or they’ll entice you with the story that they have access to an exclusive investment opportunity that can change both of your lives. They may try to get you to sign something over to them or ask you to add them to your bank account. 

But the bottom line is you should never, in any circumstance, send money or financial information to someone you’re chatting to on a dating app or website

How to Avoid Being Catfished 

Safety should always be your #1 priority when it comes to online dating. In addition to using platforms with built-in safety features like Match, eharmony, and Elite Singles, here are a few things you can do to avoid catfish. 

Ask for a Video Call

If the person is really who they claim to be, arranging a video chat before your date shouldn’t be a problem. Be wary of an online match who balks at the idea of a video call or claims their camera isn’t working.

Photo of a man on a video call
Setting up a video call is a good safety measure for online dating.

If they always seem to have an excuse for not doing so, like their phone died or they’re having internet troubles or they’re stuck at work, this could mean you’re talking to a catfish. 

Take Things Slowly

Another common tactic catfish will use is to sweep you off your feet with flattery and charm. Pump the brakes when, after just a handful of messages, someone is telling you how wonderful and beautiful you are and how they can’t wait to marry you and go on a gorgeous honeymoon to your dream destination. 

We all want to hear these things, but hearing them from someone who doesn’t really know you is a big red flag. 

Ask Plenty of Questions

Asking questions is a great way to get to know a person you’re talking to, and if they are genuine, they won’t mind telling you about themselves. And if they’re a catfish, this is a great way to catch them in a lie. Ask probing questions like:

  • Where did you grow up?
  • Who are your closest friends?
  • Do you have family in the area?
  • Where do you like to hang out for fun?

Pay attention to inconsistencies in their stories, especially on basic things. For example, last week they said they had two sisters and this week they mention a sister and a brother. That might be a sign to dig deeper and see if they are not who they claim to be. 

Catfishing Is Common, But You Can Still Date Safely 

No one goes into the world of online dating expecting a scammer to target them, but it happens to thousands of people every day. While that may sound terrifying, it doesn’t mean you should give up on dating apps entirely. Follow safe dating practices and keep an eye out for anything that seems unusual. 

Don’t be afraid to block or report anyone who seems suspicious. If you’re not sure, ask a trusted friend or relative what they think of the person’s profile and messages. 

And above all else, keep your personal information and financial information to yourself, no matter what story your match spins.