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Catfishing on dating apps: How to tell if your new crush is real

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Aug 14, 2023

Catfishing on dating apps: How to tell if your new crush is real
  • The rise of the internet has been a game changer for queer people. These days all we need to do is pick up our phones and open up the HER app to get connected to hundreds of single thirsty gay women. It’s a dream come true for the prospects of LGBTQ+ dating in so many ways. No longer do we have to roam the farmer’s market, waiting for the love of our life to show up. However, there is a darker side to internet dating to be on the lookout for—catfish. 

    And before you ask, no, I’m not talking about the slippery marine animal with whiskers. I’m talking about people who pretend to be someone else on LGBTQ+ dating apps. If you’re suspicious that someone you are talking to on the dating apps isn’t who they say they are, you might be getting catfished. 

    Understanding Catfishing 

    What is catfishing in dating? Catfishing is when someone creates a false identity under the premise of starting a romantic or platonic relationship with someone online. While this used to happen in the early 2000s, more so on Craigslist and Myspace, catfishers have started creating profiles on dating apps or social media sites. 

    A catfish or catfisher is someone who creates a fake persona in order to start a dishonest relationship for emotional or financial gain.

    Sometimes the red flags are fairly obvious, but some catfishers go to extreme lengths to create fake identities online, including stealing names, photos, and personal information from other people’s social media accounts. This information can make them seem like a real person. 

    While HER does require all our users to verify their identities using an existing social media account, some people who catfish might even create multiple social profiles to build up the credibility of their fake identity. 

    Defining Catfishing

    You might be wondering: why it is called catfishing? While people have been practicing catfishing while online dating since forever ago, the term originated with the 2010 documentary “Catfish,” that led to the popular spin-off MTV series you might have been obsessed with in 2012. 

    Romance scams have become even easier in the past decade with the rise of dating apps and social media in our lives. 

    While most of the stories we hear in the media about catfishing are heterosexual, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t also catfishers on LGBTQ+ dating apps. Anyone can get catfished, including queer people. So how do you stay safe and protect yourself from a catfishing romance scam? It’s important to know what to look out for when verifying the true identity of someone you’ve met online. 

    Here is a list of red flags that might mean you’re being catfished on dating apps.

    Signs that someone is catfishing you

    Here are some common red flags that your crush might actually be a catfish:

    • They don’t show their face: They always seem to have an excuse for not being able to video call or talk on the phone. 
    • No (or odd) social media accounts: They don’t have a social media profile, or if they do, they don’t have very many friends (or followers).
    • Their photos don’t feature other people: They don’t have any photos with friends or loved ones.
    • They push to keep things online: They make excuses not to meet up in person.
    • They probe too soon: They ask you for money or personal financial details. 
    • Odd, rushed grammar: Their messages have odd spelling mistakes, strange grammar, or constant typos.
    • They drop the “L” word early on: They love bomb you, want you to commit before meeting up, or things are getting serious super quickly.
    • Little white lies: Their stories are elaborate but don’t always add up. 

    Why do people catfish?

    While catfishing is manipulative and emotionally exploitative, people catfish for many different reasons. The main thing that many catfishers have in common is insecurity and a lack of confidence in being themselves. If someone feels bad about who they are, they might try to create an identity that matches who they wish to be. 

    Some people are incredibly lonely and don’t think of themselves as worthy of finding love. They might believe that the only way they can find a connection is through impersonating someone else who is hotter, younger, or more desirable in some way. Mental health issues such as anxiety, agoraphobia, and depression can also play a factor in the decision to catfish someone. 

    Sometimes people catfish to harass or seek revenge on the particular person they are pretending to be. They may use their ex-partner’s photos and personal information to humiliate or damage their reputation. Other people may be confused about their sexuality or gender identity and impersonate someone to explore these identities without having to reveal their true identity. 

    A black woman with braids looking at her phone in the kitchen with a frustrated look on her face.

    What to do if you think someone might be catfishing you

    If you are suspicious at all that someone you are talking to on an LGBTQ+ dating app isn’t who they say they are, you are probably right. Follow your gut if something feels off. These days most people have a digital trace somewhere online. 


    • Trust your gut: Your intuition is your best self-protection mode; if something seems off, don’t be afraid to call it out. 
    • Google is your friend: If you are unsure if they are being genuine or not, Google it. You can always search for their name or any other identifying details they’ve told you to verify their true identity.
    • It’s okay to ask for more: Don’t be afraid to ask them for a current or casual selfie! You can also suggest that you video call or talk on the phone before meeting up in person to ensure they are legit.
    • Don’t share personal information: Make sure not to share personal details about yourself or explicit photos with someone you don’t know online, especially if you haven’t met up yet.
    • Report the catfish: You can always report a profile on a dating app if you believe it is a scam and get the profile removed.

    Is it illegal to catfish someone? Surprisingly, no. However, as a relationship progresses, it can become criminal fraud if they use their persona to receive goods or money from you. They might also be infringing on intellectual property by using another person’s photo.  If things start to get serious or scary, gather all the information you know about the person, call the police, and file a report. Make sure to block the person from your social media, phone, and dating profile. 

    If you are a young person and believe that you have been catfished, make sure that you tell a trusted adult. 

    How to cope if you’ve been catfished on an LGBTQ+ dating app

    Given how often we digitally connect with people these days, catfishing has become an increasingly common phenomenon. Realizing that you have been catfished can be emotionally devastating. 

    You might feel naive, stupid, or judgmental of yourself for allowing the relationship to progress or getting close to someone. You also might find it difficult to trust people after being betrayed or lied to.

    If you fall for a con artist online, don’t beat yourself up. Just remember that what happened wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. Getting catfished is just one of many dating mistakes that people make. If you can, speak to a trusted friend or therapist to help you navigate these difficult emotions as they arise. 

    The truth is that anyone can get catfished online. While we love our little gay dating apps, we should all be on the lookout for disingenuous people and profiles. Digital literacy is an important skill to hone in keeping yourself safe and protected online. Make sure to reach out to HER’s customer support if you ever feel unsafe or suspicious on our app.

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    Dusty Brandt Howard is a writer & a fighter. He is a trans masculine cultural narrator who builds worlds with words. You can follow his thirst traps on Instagram, his writing on Substack, or find him at your local queer bar in northeast LA.

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