Ever since there’s been an Internet, there’s been a frumpy guy in an undershirt pretending to be a hot model. Social media have made those kind of hoaxes more believable — and more noticeable.

And now that someone as prominent as Manti Te’o has been “catfished,” there’s a renewed interest in Internet deceptions.

A catfish, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is someone who uses social media to create false identities in an attempt to pretend they’re someone they’re not. The term comes from the hit 2010 documentary of the same name, which tracked such a scam. (“Catfish” also is now a reality show on MTV.)

Whatever you think of Manti Te’o, his girlfriend hoax has been quite embarrassing. Being catfished is something no one wants or deserves. So here are some ways to prevent it from happening to you.



Te’o basically was attracted to a Twitter avatar. That’s OK (a little weird but OK) if you do your homework first. While there’s no need to check every image of every person, if something doesn’t feel quite right, check it out. The easiest way to do so is to go to images.google.com and drag and drop an image onto the page. A good result is “no other sizes of this image found,” which indicates the image hasn’t been shared by thousands of websites. But if you see the same image used on multiple social media profiles, there may be a problem. Considering this step takes all of 15 seconds, can you really afford not to do it?


The privacy settings may prevent you from seeing much, but focus on two areas: The join date and the number of friends. If someone just joined Facebook an hour ago, that’s a red flag. If someone has six friends and joined years ago, that’s also a reason to raise a flag. If the person has some open privacy settings, look at posting habits. Are there any photos of family members? Has anyone tagged this person in other activities? Does the person like other comments or businesses, or do they seem to go out of their way to avoid a conversation? Someone who is very quiet on Facebook should be given a closer look.


While LinkedIn isn’t a hot social network where everyone congregates, it’s getting rare these days to find someone with absolutely no LinkedIn presence. Don’t use this as your only measurement, but if Google images and the Facebook timeline are problematic and you find no Linked­In presence, add it to the “concern” list.


Going back to the frumpy guy in the undershirt, a request to video chat would be his worst nightmare. Be concerned if repeated attempts to chat are met with excuses. And don’t chalk it up to technology — most computers, mobile devices and tablets nowadays support this feature, whether it’s Facebook chat, Skype or FaceTime.


Creepy? Stalkerish? It may seem that way, but if you really want to be sure someone is telling you the truth, a simple Google search or online background checks turn up plenty of options. And because more options exist today than a few years ago, they aren’t that expensive.

And finally, here’s one piece of advice that never changes, no matter how much technology evolves: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.