The Imitation Game – Do you really know who you’re talking to online?

Would you tell someone dressed up as your best friend one of your deepest darkest secrets? Or if someone was doing an impression of your girlfriend or boyfriend, would you share an intimate photo of yourself with them?

The answer is probably no, right?

It’s pretty easy to spot if someone is trying to be another person in real life. Unfortunately, in the online world it’s not so easy.

MTV’s Catfish has shown us how easily people can impersonate others and use fake personas online in an attempt to lure someone into an online relationship. Whilst it may be fun to watch how the show pans out, especially when the pretty 18-year-old girl from a different state turns out to be a 25-year-old man from down the road, it makes us question if we truly know who we are talking to online.

Catfishing is a form of identity theft, which is serious in its own right, but sometimes people take it way beyond just pretending to be someone else online. There are adults online that are very clever at convincing young people into doing things that they may not usually do, or that they really don’t want to do, usually whilst they are hiding behind the identity of someone else.

Earlier this year a man was jailed after posing as a number of famous people online, including YouTube vlogging sensation Zoella, as well as pretending to be a modelling agent and asking girls to perform sex acts for him via their webcams.  The girls involved thought they were speaking to their favourite celebrity or being offered the opportunity to become a model when in fact this man was exploiting them.

It is really important when speaking to someone online that you know who they actually are.  If you don’t know them, or have suspicions that they aren’t who they say they are, think twice about the information and images you share with them, especially when using a webcam as anything you do can be recorded and shared.  You can read our safety advice on using a webcam here.

If you are worried that you or a friend are have been speaking to someone online who might not be who they say they are, or you are being asked to do something that you don’t want to do, you should speak to an adult you trust, such as a parent, carer or teacher. You can also report directly to CEOP via the ‘Click CEOP’ button at the bottom of this page or by clicking here.

For free and confidential advice you can contact ChildLine 24/7 by calling 0800 1111 or visiting www.childline.org.uk