The Catfish Conundrum: Nearly 25% of UK Citizens Fall Prey, Experiencing Emotional and Financial Turmoil

A startling 22% of Britons have been ensnared by catfishing in their lifetimes, with a significant 31% encountering their deceivers face-to-face, only to uncover their true identities. This finding emerges from a comprehensive survey by ExpressVPN, a foremost entity in consumer privacy and security.

Surveying 2,000 individuals aged 18 to 50 across the UK, the study sheds light on the nefarious aspects of social media and online dating, such as catfishing, AI fraud, and apprehensions about revenge porn. The survey indicates that nearly half (49%) of Brits are increasingly aware of the personal threat posed by catfishing over the last year. With 56% perceiving catfishing as a primary risk in online dating, this concern is second only to the danger of encountering someone perilous (62%). Additional online dating anxieties include harassment (39%), unsolicited explicit images (30%), and exposure of personal data (26%). Worryingly, the majority of current online daters in the UK confess to at least one catfishing experience (54%).

In light of rising romance scams on social media, the Home Affairs Committee has launched a new fraud inquiry. ExpressVPN’s survey reveals that young adults aged 18-24 are most susceptible to catfishing, with 34% affected, followed by 27% of 25-34 year-olds, 18% of 35-44 year-olds, and 7% of 45-50 year-olds. Notably, men are more likely to be catfished (24%) compared to women (20%).

Platforms most associated with catfishing reports are as follows:

  • Facebook: 35%
  • Tinder: 31%
  • Snapchat: 26%
  • Instagram: 25%
  • WhatsApp: 16%
  • TikTok: 14%
  • Bumble: 12%
  • Hinge: 8%
  • X: 8%
  • Reddit: 3%

While 37% of victims detected deception before in-person meetings, nearly a third (31%) were disillusioned upon meeting. Alarmingly, 25% communicated with their catfish for over a year before discovery, and 14% realised the catfish was someone they knew. Tragically, more than 12% suffered financial or gift-related scams.

Catfishing inflicts profound mental health impacts, such as anxiety and depression. Post-catfishing, 39% experienced embarrassment and regret, 36% felt emotionally devastated, 27% lost interest in love pursuits, and 17% suffered mental illnesses like anxiety or depression. An additional 16% were reluctant to inform family or friends. Consequently, 28% of Brits are deterred from using social media or dating apps for relationship seeking.

Brits themselves admit to questionable online behaviours, heightening security risks. About 43% have sent nude images, with 15% fearing potential blackmail, 13% anxious about uncontrolled circulation, 15% worried about family exposure, and 10% concerned about employer discovery. This follows the UK’s Revenge Porn Helpline receiving 10,000 calls and reports in 2023—a 31% increase.

Moreover, 34% of Brits confess to creating fake profiles or impersonating others on social/dating platforms, primarily to enhance dating prospects (10%), to check on partners (9%), or to monitor exes (8%). Additionally, over a quarter (28%) admit to using AI to embellish dating or social media profiles, largely for photo enhancement (15%), biography improvement (14%), and pickup line refinement (12%).

Lauren Hendry Parsons, Privacy Advocate for ExpressVPN, comments:

“With the emergence of social media and dating apps came the catfishers—scammers who create a fake persona, complete with attractive photos, to form relationships with strangers predicated on lies. We live so much of our lives online now that it’s not unusual for our first connection with someone to be virtual, including with potential employers, colleagues, bank and retail support staff. There is therefore an element of trust we as individuals have when talking to someone online—a lot more so than a decade ago.

“But sadly there are many bad actors out there preying on this trust, often for financial gain. The growing sophistication of AI and ease of generating false identities has threatened that trust even more. If you suspect you’re getting catfished, report the person to the dating app or social media platform and indicate precisely why you think they’re a possible catfish. There are also several additional security measures you can take when online. For example, using a high-quality VPN can add an extra layer of security to your online interactions. By masking your IP address, a VPN helps protect your location and identity, helping your online activities remain private and secure.”

For more information, visit: https://www.expressvpn.com/

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