Kyle Glenn Mbpdsi0ilmo Unsplash Gayle Edit

Clocking Catfish Before They Catch You

Kyle Glenn Mbpdsi0ilmo Unsplash Gayle Edit

I was catfished on Grindr by a guy using fake pics to get in my pants! How can you spot a catfish, and what do I do to avoid it happening again? 

 - Joe

Hey Joe,

I’ve been catfished a couple of times and it’s a pretty vulnerable feeling. I’ve been on the receiving end of catfishing in two different ways - first I was duped by someone using fake pics, and then someone stole my pics and used them to trick other people. 

If you haven’t seen the TV show or know what a catfish is - basically it’s someone who creates fake profiles using someone else's pictures and false information.

Catfishing is a big issue on Grindr. There are two main kinds of catfisher I’ve encountered:

  • The ones who use other people’s images to trick you into talking to them or meeting them for sex
  • The ones who try to scam us. They try to trick people to get information/naughty pics by using fake attractive pics. Sometime they just want to be sent photos, but sometimes they might ask for money in exchange for deleting the pictures.


I’ve pulled in some backup on this one and had a kōrero with the team at Netsafe about whether they’ve had reports of Grindr catfishing and for advice. Turns out they've had 10 official reports since 2019 and probably more, as many catfishing complaints don’t list the app they were targeted on.

Check out the resources and support available over at Netsafe

So, how do you spot a catfish? 

Keep an eye out for some of these common red flags in your chat:

  • Watermarked pics or signs they could be screenshots.
  • Intentionally unclear pics (i.e. the subject is far away, wearing big sunglasses, etc.).
  • The person may look familiar to you, but not match the name you know them by (it baffles me how so many catfishers imitate locals).
  • They send expiring photos so you’ve got no reference to check back on.
  • Each photo may look like slightly different people.
  • They might be very vague on personal details.
  • Suss and inconsistent stories.
  • They may ask to meet in a dark spot. The “lights-off bum-up” type (not to be confused with the genuine guys who just love that kink);
  • Or, refuse to meet at all, even if they are dangling a sexual encounter and requesting photos (in the case of the scammy types).

Sometimes you won’t figure it out until you do meet them - and that’s not your fault. When you get there you might encounter them trying to deflect from your gut reaction that something isn’t right:

  • “I’m a little older than my photos”
  • “I have slightly less hair now”
  • Wearing sunglasses/hat
  • Dim/dark lighting at the location

“I’m a little older than my photos.”

How do you avoid getting catfished?

If any of the clues say catfish, trust your gut. If you have a fishy feeling about it, you’re probably onto something.

So, if you’re feeling unsure but they’re hot and you don’t want them to be fake, try deploying some of these techniques:

  • Ask them to chat on a video call
  • Ask for more photos of specific things, i.e. holding today’s newspaper, like an old detective movie
  • Reverse image search to catch out the catfishers who take pics from Instagram or Tumblr
  • Ask for their social media so you can message on there
  • Try front-footing it, for example: “I don’t mean to be rude and I’m sorry if this isn’t the case but I’m getting catfish vibes from you. I’ve been catfished before, so I’m a little cautious." You can sneak in compliments here to soften it if you want, eg, “your photos just look TOO good!”
  • Don’t ever give your address. You absolutely should ask to meet in a neutral public location first, or use the pin feature and meet them on a well-lit street.

How do you keep yourself safe/get out of a catfishing situation?

If you find yourself on the hook and have met with a catfish, your safety is the biggest priority. Some of these can help to get out:

  • Just leave. You don’t have to say anything, not even goodbye.
  • If you feel the situation is safe enough, say it like it is. “You’ve misled me and I’m really not comfortable with that, I’m going to go now.”
  • Say you’re feeling sick and leave.
  • Pretend you’ve had an urgent text and leave.
  • If you decide you are still into the encounter, that’s your prerogative. But if you do stay and you feel comfortable enough to, please try to have a conversation about how what they’re doing is unethical, illegal and that they need to stop. The rest of the community needs to be kept safe too.
  • If you feel stuck and can’t get to an exit - ask to use the bathroom (lock the door, if possible) and call the police or climb out a window if it’s safe to do so.

Regardless of which situation you end up in, this account needs to be reported. 

If someone’s using your identity:

  • Report the account.
  • Take screenshots as evidence.
  • Message the account telling them to stop using your image immediately, then block them.
  • You could also contact the police - they are the only ones who can take something like this further.

Why do people even do this? 

I don’t want to presume to know why those who aren’t scammers do this. They could be downlow, unwell, have severe body dysphoria that makes them want to impersonate someone else, or blatantly get a kick out of causing harm. None of these excuse the behaviour. In fact, it’s illegal and it’s assault.

Scammers? Well, they just be scamming, it’s gross and only going to get more common as information becomes more and more valuable. Look after your data folks. 


If you need help:

You can contact Netsafe for advice or to report catfishing or any other kind of online harm.

The law states that a person does not consent to sexual activity with another person if they allow it because they are mistaken or misled about who the other person is. If you have been catfished into engaging in any sexual activity, there are people you can talk to who will support you and help you contact authorities if necessary.

  • Talk to someone at your closest Sexual Health Service – they will have support pathways to help you, these differ from region to region
  • – is Aotearoa’s 24/7 helpline for any kind of sexual harm. You can contact them in whatever way feels most comfortable – text, email, phone-call and more. Trained counsellors will be able to speak with you and help support you
  • If you feel comfortable speaking to the Police – there is a sexual assault unit that will be able to help you bring a complaint against someone who has harmed you. We understand that this is a big deal though, so we recommend talking to an organisation that can support you in contacting Police and help you through the process.

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