'Catfish' hosts: Technology gives frauds new tools

Kami Crawford co-hosts "Catfish: The TV Show." Photo courtesy of MTV
1 of 5 | Kami Crawford co-hosts "Catfish: The TV Show." Photo courtesy of MTV

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- Hosts Nev Schulman and Kamie Crawford said Catfish: The TV Show, returning with new episodes Tuesday at 8 p.m. EDT on MTV, shows how people use new technology to deceive others.

"They have more tools," Crawford said in a recent Zoom interview. "They've got AI now. They've got ChatGPT."


Schulman and Crawford help people who have met someone online but worry the potential romantic interest may not who they claim to be. The hosts use tools like reverse image searches and cellphone records to locate the mystery people.

"We're all just trying to catch up with technology," Schulman said. "There's very little education taking place to prepare people for the many different things to look out for and best practices."

Some people string others along for potential dates, but others scam victims out of money. In the episode airing Oct. 10, Schulman and Crawford step in after a man named Cody sent $15,000 to a mystery woman.


"This season has the highest amount of money transactions that I think we've ever seen on the show," Crawford said. "Honestly, anyone can fall victim to that."

Schulman and Crawford are immediately suspicious when Cody's "girlfriend" requests financial transactions, as well as Cody's Social Security number. However, Crawford said even the most experienced people can fall victim to crafty con artists.

Crawford said she received a warning that her Venmo account had been hacked. However, the alert was fake.

"If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone, truly." Crawford said. "I was able to get my money back, but they took almost $2,000."

Schulman had his first experience with online deception, which was depicted in the 2010 movie, Catfish. The movie inspired Urban Dictionary to define a catfish as someone who pretends to be someone they're not, using Facebook or other social media to create false identities.

Schulman said he started the show in 2012 to help other catfishing victims, and Crawford joined as co-host in 2018.

Schulman credits Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o with popularizing the term. In 2012 Te'o found out his online girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had died, but later learned Naya Tuiasosopo had created a fake account using the name Lennay.


"For every episode of Catfish that we make, there are thousands of other people with similar stories that we won't ever hear," Schulman said. "We're still making the show because it's still happening. We're not struggling to make the show."

By the time of the movie and the beginning of the TV show, social media and dating websites were already fraught with fraud. Crawford said that dating apps like Tinder have made it easier for con artists to convince innocent users.

"When you get on these apps, you're flooded with options," Crawford said. "Oh, here's a cute person who lives within five minutes walking distance of you."

Episodes of Catfish often end with Schulman and Crawford locating the real person behind the scam. This season, one woman said she lied because she lost interest in the man she was texting.

Schulman said that is a common explanation he and Crawford encounter. Catfishers will go to more trouble to continue the ruse than simply break it off or admit they were faking.

"One question I find we ask almost every time is, 'Why didn't you just stop?'" Schulman said. "Continuing to lie, flirt, pretend and come up with excuses is slightly easier than the thought of having that really difficult conversation."


Schulman said he hoped to render his own show obsolete one day. He and Crawford said they hope to teach people warning signs to watch out for in their online interactions, but technology will inevitably provide more ways to deceive.

"I would have thought at some point in the last 11 years, we might have graduated or improved our online communication skills to make it more difficult for this to happen," Schulman said. "In many ways, it's the opposite."

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