Online issues and worries: catfishing and impersonation
Catfishing, or impersonation, is when someone creates an online profile pretending to be someone else. They might be pretending to be someone who actually exists, or they might have made up a false identity.
Why do people impersonate others online?
- Online bullying – some fake profiles are created with the aim of excluding, humiliating or otherwise harming people. This is a form of online bullying.
- Scams or fraud – sometimes, people create fake profiles in order to make money. They could be fake accounts that look like businesses, or fake accounts of individuals asking for money for different reasons.
- Parody accounts – some accounts are made to imitate celebrities, politicians, companies or other well-known groups or people. These are meant to be funny, critical or both.
- Grooming – some people pretend to be someone else online in order to manipulate, exploit or harm others. If you suspect that this is happening to you, report it to CEOP and speak to a trusted adult immediately.
Does catfishing break the law?
Currently, catfishing is not a crime in the UK. However, the act of catfishing might be illegal if the activity of the person running the fake account is illegal. For example, if a fake account is used to make money, then that person could be committing fraud. If the catfishing involves the harassment of someone else, then this could also break the law.
Are there rules for creating parody accounts?
Some platforms let users create fake accounts that parody public figures like celebrities, organisations or even historical figures. These accounts are created for entertainment, criticism or sometimes to share information.
Parody accounts should make it clear in the name, bio and posts that the account is not official. They should also make sure to follow the platforms rules, as some social media platforms do not allow parody accounts.
How can I tell if an account is real or not?
- If you think an account is impersonating one of your friends or family, ask them in-person for their username so you can be sure the account you’re interacting with is actually them.
- Look carefully at the spellings of usernames. Sometimes fake accounts deliberately use very similar usernames (with one letter or symbol changed or added).
- On some platforms, official accounts of celebrities or businesses will be verified, meaning they have confirmed their identity with the platform. You can usually tell accounts are verified with a symbol like a blue tick next to the username.
- Some platforms let users pay for blue ticks, so it is important to check if they are verified or paid for.
What should I do if someone is pretending to be me online?
If someone is pretending to be you online, you can normally report this to the safety team of the app or social media service where it’s happening.
Save the evidence by taking screenshots, report the account and speak to a trusted adult. Lots of social media platforms now allow you to report accounts for impersonation using the same process as reporting an offensive or illegal post, comment or message. This can lead to the account being taken down.
I have created a fake account; how do I delete it?
You can delete a fake account the same way you would delete your normal accounts on social media. The exact process might be different depending on the platform, but you can often find the delete option in the settings of your account. For more details on how to delete accounts on different platforms, use this help page from Internet Matters.
How do I report a fake account online?
Each platform has its own reporting system for fake accounts. Some platforms will only let you report an account that’s impersonating you, so you might have to try contacting the person being impersonated.
If you can report an account for impersonation, you may have to go to the profile itself and report it there. Look for the ‘report profile’ button. For more information on individual platforms, use Report Harmful Content’s support page.
If someone is impersonating you online and you need further support, talk to an adult you trust, like family members, teachers or youth workers.
Where to go for help
If you’re looking for help or information, but you’re worried about starting a conversation with an adult, here are some tips.
- Meic - A free and confidential helpline for children and young people in Wales with advisers to help you find the support you need – call 080880 23456, text 84001 or chat online
- Childline - A free and confidential helpline for children and young people in the UK where you can talk about anything – call 0800 1111
- The Mix - A free and confidential helpline and advice service for people experiencing mental health problems – call 0300 123 3393
- Childnet - Online safety advice for children and young people
- Anti-Bullying Alliance - Advice and support on dealing with bullying
- National Bullying Helpline - An anti-bullying helpline for children and adults
- Report Harmful Content - A national reporting centre that has been designed to assist everyone in reporting harmful content online
- Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) - Report to them if you're worried about online sexual abuse or the way someone has been talking to you online