Three seasons in, the stars of MTV's Catfish say the levels of deception out there are only getting worse.
"We've drained the Catfish waters and the only people left are the real bottom-feeders," co-star Max Joseph tells TVGuide.com. "These people are really hard to pin down or are really good at it."
When the series — which is based on the eponymous documentary detailing creator Nev Schulman's own story of being duped — debuted in 2012, it immediately developed a following of people intrigued by those who were in long-term online relationships yet had never met. In almost every episode, one or both of the parties had lied about who they really were. The term "catifished" soon caught on when midway through the first season, Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o was the victim of a hoax having been led to believe he was in a relationship with a woman who then died of cancer.
But even with the media attention, Nev and Max say it's still easy to be fooled and, in fact, this season features their first celebrity victim. "What's interesting about the Tracie Thoms episode is that she reached out to us because she had a superfan experience," Max says. "She was connected and communicating to one of her superfans who introduced her to someone else and there was a whole situation that unfolded from that. Even though it wasn't a traditional Catfish couple, there are a lot of other ways that people use social media to pursue people they're interested in whether it's romantic or not. We helped her find out the truth and confront someone who had put her through an emotional roller coaster ride."
So with all the social media avenues, online dating sites and other ways to meet people online, what are some tips to avoid being "catfished"? Max and Nev share the biggest ones below!
Don't assume only stupid people get fooled (aka it could happen to you!)
"A lot of people come up to us and say, 'These people must be really stupid!' But they're not," Max says. "The truth is most people don't have someone to talk to so going online and meeting someone on the other side of the country gives them the one outlet where they can be honest about who they are and tell someone their secrets and have someone tell them everything will be OK and listen to them. ... Added bonus their profile picture is of a hot person." He also notes that many times, the person might have an inkling yet still continue the relationship. "They're getting something they need so badly that they might know in the back of their head they might not be who they said they were, but what they're getting is so much more important to them they don't want to press the issue until it gets to a point where they just have to know or move on."
Analyzing Facebook is key
It's rare these days that someone doesn't have a Facebook page which is why it's become the greatest clue into someone's personal life. "If it's a girl and they have a lot of different guys hollering at them and they seem to be guys that they haven't met in person or they have a ton of friends, that's evidence this person is a tease and invites strangers to talk to them, but no one actually knows them," Max says. "That goes hand-in-hand with pictures not being tagged or having no pictures of them."
If they just want to hook up, they probably have ulterior motives
Yes, many people use websites just to have, well, fun, but it could be a tactic. Says Nev, "I do think there's a subsection who use the 'Let's just hook up, I want action' presentation to get people engaged. Then if they say, 'Let's meet up', but then postpone, it's something to be careful of. If you want to get laid go to a bar and get laid. Or go on Tinder. They're luring you in with this bait."
They present a "What if?" scenario
It seems pretty obvious but surprisingly in almost every episode people hint that they're not who they presented. Max points out, "If a girl or guy ever says to you, 'What if I'm not who I say I am?' or 'Let's just say I'm not the person in the pictures, how would you react?' well If that's not a red flag then I don't know what is."
They won't skype or Facetime
Another no-brainer, yet it still has to be said. "If they won't Skype, video chat or talk on the phone leave and stop talking to them!" Max says. "That's a major red flag especially now that it's easier to do."
Catfish airs on Wednesdays at 10/9c on MTV. Catch up on the Season 3 premiere here.