It’s been a while since I got heated up about catfishing, the bizarre phenomena where apparently groups of poor folks in third world countries find a way to scam, lonely people via fake social media profiles using my photos (when they tire of using Alec) to round out their fake persona.
It’s not because anything changed.
So it has felt rather pointless, and I have let it go for a while. But this says to me that if we wait for systems to change what is wrong with themselves, we remain victims. But we do not have to wait for CatfishBook to change if we act smarter.
People are doing this. Since doing all my publishing about this, it means that should someone who is suspicious of a person’s social media profile does a revers image search, it’s more likely they will come across my stuff about Catfishing.
It’s as simple (in Google Chrome) as right/control clicking on a suspicious photo, and doing Google Image search for the photo:
or just using the Google image search by uploading an image or inserting it’s URL.
Now a reverse image search only seems to find matches for me like 30% of the time. It’s not really searching all the photos on the internet. Sometimes Tineye finds thing google doesn’t. Often not.
But it’s a tool people have available.
And they are using it. Most of the email I get from catfished victims found me because they took this step. The one I got yesterday was a real gem, because (a) she was suspicious from the start and (b) she let the line run out before yanking it taut.
I am not going to share any info about her, I will call here “SW” for “Smart Woman”. She sent me a rather detailed screenshot of her conversations with someone named “Harry” on I believe Tinder.
Harry was asking for dinner, SW wisely suggested a more casual meetup first for coffee. She asks about his profile photo.
She was already reverse image searched that photo, which is a commonly used one. It’s a photo of me from 2008 when I spent a month in Iceland.
SW probes Harry about his photos…
He offers to send it by text. SW is smart, she says “My phone only accepts numbers I can enter” and asks for his number. Smart? Yes.
A common pattern here- Harry quickly responds, but with a number that does not work. It looks real, but is not. She asks for an email address. His reply? “Email? Too long”.
SW presents her caution.
Harry is so compassionate, eh?
She asks to know more about him, his name (which he provides as “Harry Woodgate Adrain”) that he has a 6 year old boy “out of wedlock”, Single dads seem to be a good ploy in date scams, they usually have vilely mean ex-spouses.
And so SW pulls out her ammo!
This is priceless. I wonder what Harry will do? Maybe he will pull out the fake Skype trick using a crappy quality video of me as a course, claim its a bad connection, etc.
He has answer…
Apparently Harry has fears of his photo being used! Ho ho ho.
SW reports she got a few more texts while she was out, and by the time she replied, Harry had already blocked her number.
I went into CatfishBook and found two profiles with the name Harry Woodgate (they have already been shut down). Sometimes its a bit tricky for me to find my own photos. This was one:
That was easy to find. That is of course Camden Yards, where I went on a stadium tour with my sister in 2012- she took the photo with my camera.
The second one stumped me, as it was obviously me, but I did not even recognize my own t-shirt, and I was standing in some strange doorway, wearing my camera slingpack.
For fun, I did a reverse image search in Google, and came up with a whole net full of fakes over on
With some amusement, I noticed the last fake profile was for someone named “Paula” — she could not have a prettier photo, eh?
I let ’em know about this
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) January 25, 2016
and filed a report with them. Their responses always make me laugh because they tell me to login to check for a response. I don;t have a CatfishedIn account nor plan to get one.
Back to the photo. I was hopeful it was in my flickr stream.
The shape of the door clued me in that it was from a visit to an old jail, and searching my own flickr photos for “jail” found the photo:
Note how cropping the photo made it look like Harry was standing in an ordinary doorway. Not a territorial prison in Wyoming, which is where I was standing in my own photo.
As part of my petty war with Facebook, I have an album in Facebook with the my photos that have been used in catfishing scams. I am including these screenshots because once the accounts are closed, the evidence is gone.
It was time for a break, plus it was after midnight. I went for my nightly relaxing dip in the spa, but a new idea bubbled up.
I might have trap for the Harry that SW was chatting to.
You see, she gave him a URL for my blogpost when she bombed him with the news she knew he was a fake. My hunch was there would be some details in my web server access logs for requests for that blog URL http://cogdogblog.com/2015/10/11/facebook-as-catfish-paradise-its-community-standards-wears-the-cone-of-shame/.
So I logged on to my cpanel and downloaded the log for the last 24 hours. It only has 35,000 entries in it. But I have my ways. There is a cool function in BBEdit that will copy all lines containing a string to a new file, so I ended up with 57 lines, including right after their conversation (there was a time stamp in SW’s chats and I know what time zone she is in). Access logs include all requests for images from that URL, so there will be some repeats, but each line looks like this:.
I need to just get the list of IP addresses… Hmm… I do a search on that string after the IP
- - and in BBedit replace it with a tab character or
\t. Why? I can pop openExcel, paste this in, and the first column are just the IP addresses.
I can copy this column back to BBedit, which has another handy tool to delete duplicate lines – I end up with 40 unique IP addresses accessing the blog post SW shared with “Harry”.
These I can put into a Bulk IP Address Location tool, that should return a geolocation for those addresses. I should see some for SW’s location, and hopefully some from where a catfisher is looking at my blog post.
I am so clever.
They are all from San Francisco and one is from Los Angeles.
How? Where is my flaw? I was hoping to see some IP address in maybe? It still might not have worked, they are probably smart enough to spoof their IP addresses all the time.
This morning it dawns on me- I have CloudFlare set up on cogdogblog.com– these are all IP addresses of the CLoudFlare serves that redirect requests to my blog.
With some research, I find that there is an Apache server mod from CLoudFlare that should make the servers report the actual requestors IP address. I ask Reclaim Hosting to look into it, and they fix it within 4 minutes.
But it will only help for future requests.
My hopes are slim to less than none that CatfishBook or CatfishedIn are going to change their infrastructure to address this issue. Heck, the more accounts they can list in a colorful chart, the better their business looks to investors.
But what I have found is counter to what people usually react with. They suggest it’s a problem that I have so many photos publicly available. But you see having those publicly available, and all of these blog posts, means that when catfishing victims start searching, they are often going to find my stuff. And they will get more suspicious of possible fake personas.
To me the answer is informing people and people getting more informed. And acting on their own behalf rather than expecting some entity to protect them. Webpreserver has a good post on Ways to Protect Yourself Online from “Crooked Sweethearts”
I want to share with something relevant Alec Couros shared after sending him the chat transcript. In this TED Thing James Veitch shares the fun he had by doing the unthinkable – responding to an email spammers message, and playing out the spammer to be a victim of their own deceit.
It maybe accomplishes little, but as James says, if he can waste some scammers time, then it counts as a small strike back. And that’s what I liked about what SW did, she let the line tun a bit. She wasted the time of the scammer, maybe letting them think their play was working. And she had fun with it.
There’s a lotta fish out there.
“Who in God’s name is alan?>” indeed.
I am the bastard who is going to find ways to waste your catfishing time.
Top Featured Image Credit: This is what happens when you search for open licensed images with keywords “dog” and “catfish”- the interwebz doth provide bizarrely again, thank you for this flickr photo by editrixie http://flickr.com/photos/editrixie/10511841036 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license