Ten ways to tell if you’re being catfished online

By Emen8, updated 7 months ago in Sex and dating / Dating and relationships

surprised man holds up large fish with speech bubbles in background to show catfishing

Something just doesn’t add up about him.

You’ve been chatting online for a while and swapped a few pics. He’s charming and flirty and sexy and you start sharing a few things about yourself and your life – maybe you’ve even done a little sexting. But whenever you suggest meeting up in person, there’s always an excuse. You notice little inconsistencies in the things he tells you. You start to wonder.

‘Am I being catfished?’

Different to a guy who’s just wasting your time, a catfish is someone who’s deliberately lying to you about their identity online. You may have even seen the documentary or the TV show that made the phenomenon famous.

Catfish – Trailer

There are a bunch of reasons why people catfish, from loneliness to insecurity, to plain deliberate scamming. However, there are no good reasons to deceive someone on a dating app (or IRL for that matter!).

Fake profiles on social media are nothing new — in 2022 TikTok removed almost 160 million fake accounts and X (formerly Twitter) ‘challenges’ about 10 million suspected fake accounts every week.

But a fake profile on a dating app like Grindr or Scruff can be harder to pick. On social media there is usually a whole lot more information, like timestamped pictures and followers, to help you make your mind up.

Some dating apps, such as Scruff, have verification processes. However, you just have to trust that the app has done its job. And apps like Grindr have such a basic verification process that even the technology-challenged amongst us could probably get around it.

Gay dating apps are also full of guys who don’t want to show their faces for entirely non-sinister reasons. Fortunately, there are a few ways to distinguish between a guy who’s just discreet and one who’s deliberately hiding his identity.

man with arms folded wears gold mask

Here are ten ways to tell if you’re being catfished on a gay dating app.

1. He’s using someone else’s pics

Often a quick Google reverse-image search will tell you if his pics belong to someone else.

If this is the case, he’s the very definition of a catfish — block and delete.

2. He only uses high-quality, professional pics

Even if he’s a full-time model, most guys should have a few regular shots captured on a smartphone.

If all of his profile pics are professional photos or posed headshots, or he looks a little too #instagay, then it’s time to do a little digging. You could use the aforementioned Google reverse-image search, or even just ask if he has any other pics.

3. His social media doesn’t add up

If his social media accounts are very new or he’s only got a few followers, it’s not a good sign. The same goes if he follows a lot of people and nobody follows him, or if he’s got thousands of followers and has only posted twice. These are usually signs that you’re dealing with a fake account, a scammer or a bot.

Content can also be a good indicator. A simple gut check can be useful, asking yourself ‘Do I think this person is real?’. But, if you’re still unsure, ask yourself:

  • Do people comment and like his pictures?
  • Are his posts spread out over a number of years, or have they all been posted in the last month or two?
  • Are his captions in a similar tone and writing style to his messages?
  • Does he post a variety of images or is it the same thing over and over again but from different angles?

Answering these questions will start to give you a pretty good indication of whether the profile is real or not.

4. He refuses to send you a spontaneous pic

Now, there are a lot of good reasons why he might not be able to send you a pic immediately – he might be at work or driving, for example. But if he can’t ever produce a pic in the moment, there’s got to be a reason.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to check if he has a verified profile (offered on some apps). But if he doesn’t, or the app’s verification process is average at best, then you could ask him to take a photo with his face in it while doing something specific (e.g. biting his thumb, holding a houseplant — anything will do). If he can’t or won’t, you’ve got your answer.

man holds house plant

5. He won’t give you his number or social media details

Now, a lot of guys understandably aren’t keen on giving out their number or socials on a dating app. He may not want every thirsty guy on the grid to have access to the details of his job, his friends and his family.

But if you’ve been chatting to him for a few weeks, or are even planning to meet, and he still won’t cough up the digits, you’ve got every reason to be suspicious.

6. He won’t answer the phone or video chat

If he won’t ever let you hear his voice or see his face in real time, be careful. Again, people can have all sorts of legitimate reasons for this one, but if he’s usually very responsive with messaging then this might be a cause for concern.

7. He gets very intense, very quickly

If he starts talking about his strong feelings for you after a few ‘woofs’ and a bit of flirty banter, that’s a red flag.

Overwhelming you with flattery or ‘love bombing’ you is a manipulative behaviour designed to get you to lower your defences and trust him. Don’t take the bait.

pink hand grenade with candy hearts shows love bombing

8. He always has an excuse for why he can’t meet in person

Your chat always gets right up to the point where you’re arranging to meet, and then something comes up, he disappears for a week, or he has to go away for work.

If he’s always making excuses not to meet you in person, it’s very possible he’s not who he says he is. In this situation, we recommend being up front with a boundary to see how he responds. You could say ‘Hey I’m really keen to meet up but it seems like something always gets in the way. I’m not interested in chatting forever, so if we’re not able to lock in plans in the next week I’ll need to politely unmatch and wish you luck in your hunt.’

9. He asks for money

If you haven’t met someone (or only met them once or twice) and he asks you for money, you’re almost definitely being lined up for a scam. He’s also very likely breaching the terms of service for whichever dating app you’re on. It’s important to report this behaviour using the app’s reporting function, as it’s likely he’ll be trying it with others too.

According to the ACCC, online dating apps and sites are one of the most common ways people get scammed in Australia — in 2022, reported losses to ‘dating and romance scams’ were over $40 million.

10. Something just doesn’t feel right

Trust your gut! If you’re getting the feeling that something doesn’t add up, you’re probably right. Think about why you’re suspicious and confront him with it. His reaction should tell you everything you need to know.

Dating apps are an almost inevitable part of hooking up and finding love these days, and there are plenty of success stories. According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, 50 per cent of LGBTQ+ Australians have had a relationship with somebody they met online, and there’s plenty more where that came from. Using a bit of common sense and our handy guide, you can keep things flirty and fun and avoid being catfished on dating apps.

If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam (e.g. loss of money or identity theft), the ACCC’s Scamwatch has advice on what to do next and how you can protect yourself.

If you think someone is using your images without your consent, or someone is attempting to blackmail you with intimate images, contact the Office of the eSafety Commissioner for help. Discover more about staying safe online in Sending nudes and filming dudes: a guide for law-abiding citizens.