What parents should know about Catfishing

Aside from being an online predator, the term used for a person who poses online as someone else in order to manipulate victims is a “Catfish”.

Parents are already well aware that not everyone on the internet is who they say they are. Kids, however, are a little more naïve and, depending on their age, are incredibly trusting of people they’re speaking to online.

Charges were recently laid against an Australian man for committing 931 child sex related crimes posing online as Justin Bieber. His victims were completely convinced they were speaking to the real singer and willingly sent nude images at his request. Sadly, some even agreed to meet with the predator.

What is Catfishing?
The term was coined by a documentary film maker in 2010, who told his own story of being conned into having an online relationship with a young woman who, he eventually found out, had never existed. He had been communicating with a much older woman pretending to be young and single to get his attention. The motivations behind catfishing vary greatly; some do it for entertainment, some are doing it to bully their victim and some are online predators attempting to groom their victims into meeting in person. Clinical Psychologist and Cyber Expert Jordan Foster from ySafe reports that it takes an average of 18 minutes for an online predator to convince their victim into meeting in the real world. Just 18 minutes from initial contact to the acceptance of a request to meet in person, a terrifying statistic .

How to protect your kids from getting fooled
‘Creating awareness of stranger danger amongst your children is a similar conversation parents had with previous generations,’ Jordan says. ‘Drilling into them to not talk to strangers in the real world is just as important as not talking to strangers in the online world.’ As part of Jordan’s work, she facilitates student Cyber Safety workshops where children of all ages are taken through a range of online safety topics, including staying safe online and awareness of online predators. Her research shows that as many as 50% of 12yos are unable to rationalise that people they are communicating with online may not be who they say they are, meaning they freely trust that anyone they chat with on social media is definitely a fellow student or young person. Jordan recommends sitting with your children on Facebook or Instagram to demonstrate how easy it is for people to lie about who they are online. Remind them that within their own profile they could change their age, their name and even put up photos of whoever they wanted. Point out that if they can lie about themselves online, then anyone can. ‘During my student sessions, I also demonstrate the Reverse Google Image search, where you upload a photo for Google to find if the photo is published anywhere else online,’ she says. ‘This helps reiterate the concept of people stealing photos of someone else to fool people.’ Jordan goes on to explain that constant reinforcement of the online stranger danger message is vital. She also recommends installing parental controls on all devices. Some of the most popular social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, are the least safe for kids to be using. These platforms provide the easiest means for predators to Catfish their victims, as profiles are easily faked. 

Tips to keep in mind:

- Demonstrate to your kids how easy it is to lie on social media
- Show your kids the Reverse Google Image Search
- Have open and honest conversations about online and real world stranger danger
- Reinforce the message, repeatedly
- Consider installing parental control software

Reinforcing the messages of cyber safety and stranger danger in your kids is an ongoing battle, but Family Zone and our team of Cyber Experts, including Jordan Foster from ySafe, are here to help.


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Topics: Parental Controls, Cyber Safety, Cyber Experts, parenting, catfish, catfishing, stranger danger

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