It’s Thursday night and Eddie is looking for action. He scrolls through Twitter hoping to find the woman of his dreams. Finally, he finds her, or someone who looks a lot like her: A woman going by the name “Katfish Princess” who describes herself as “hot, greedy and completely fake.”
“Destroy your life for these huge fake tits!” she tweets. And then he sends her cash.
Eddie is one of a growing number of men involved in catfishism, a fetish centred around getting scammed on the internet. These men willingly hand over their money (as much as hundreds of dollars at a time) to faux con artists who present themselves as beautiful women on social media, but say upfront their pictures are fake. In reality, they could be anyone—and that’s part of the appeal.
“It’s the whole not knowing that’s hot,” Eddie, which is not his real name, told me. “I love the humiliation.”
And it’s never been easier to get humiliated online. These days, shame junkies can open their wallets to accounts with names like “Catfish Bimbo,” “Goddess Barbie,” and “Queen Katfish.” A typical post from one reads: “This fake catfish is going to rinse and scam you into bankruptcy.” Those looking for a more specialised experience can send money to catfish impersonating celebrities, anime and video game characters, and even Dory, the tropical fish from Finding Nemo with short-term memory loss.
For most people trying to find romance on the internet, getting catfished is just another hazard of modern dating. This term for creating a fake identity to seduce someone online was popularised by the 2010 film Catfish, later adapted into a TV series. The show has found no shortage of subjects: more than 100 episodes have aired since 2012.
Catfish fetishism is a more recent development. I spoke with eight catfish and catfish admirers for this story, almost all of whom declined to provide their real names. (They will be referred to using pseudonyms, and screenshots of catfish accounts have had women’s faces and identifying information removed.) Of them, none recalled hearing of catfishism before December of last year. Most only learned of it in recent weeks, but the community, which primarily operates on Twitter, is growing fast.
Martin, a self-described “loser virgin,” estimated that there are currently hundreds of catfish fetish accounts serving many more clients. He said he sometimes spends hundreds of dollars a week on catfish, and thinks the fact that these women “might be an old man or whatever” makes it even kinkier for some.
Eddie agreed. He said he had been catfished “quite a few times” by men pretending to women and, eventually, “knowing someone was laughing at you and scamming you became a huge turn on.”
“I always felt that there should be more men acting like hot babes online,” Martin told me. “The reason is because like everywhere there is a shortage of hot babes. And since it’s online anyway, who cares if it’s real?”
The desire to spend real money to get fake scammed is less surprising if you’re familiar with a fetish lifestyle called “findom,” short for “financial domination.” Traditionally, a findom “sub” or “paypig” (who are mostly men) develops a relationship with a “dom” or “domme” (who are mostly women) who controls some aspect of their financial life as a form of humiliating erotic play. For a sub, this can be as simple as a one-time cash payment or as extreme as handing over your bank account password.
These relationships often include in-person “rinse” sessions, where dommes extract cash from subs while commanding them to perform a variety of sexual or demeaning acts. The more intense ones have names like “forced bi,” “scatplay,” and “forced sissification,” and are pretty much exactly what they sound like.
As findom has moved online, more casual relationships between dommes and subs have flourished. On Twitter, a sub’s interactions with a domme might be limited to sending her an occasional cash gift, known as a “tribute,” in hopes of receiving an insulting shout-out. “This pathetic loser been begging for my tits all morning,” reads one such message. “So I told him to tribute $US400 ($577) and the stupid bitch did.”
Sara Bakeman, who says she started working as a domme a decade ago before joining Twitter last year, explained the different prices she charges for real-life and virtual rinse sessions.
“In-person is always more, so, for instance, a sub who just wants a kick in the balls and a cash meet is about $500 on the low end and about $1,000+ on the higher end,” Bakeman told me. “On Twitter, it ranges from $30 to $1,000+. Just depends really. You feel out your subs.”
But while the internet has made it easier for subs to find dommes and dommes to find subs, it has also increased the number of fakes and scammers on both sides. Last year, domme Abbie Nooday wrote guides to help both parties avoid getting swindled. She also spoke with Mel Magazine, sharing her personal experiences with fake dommes who stole her pictures and tweets.
“This isn’t a job where you can just go online, post a stolen photo, yell at people to give you money and then block them or not give them what you promised,” Nooday told the magazine.
She now operates two catfish domme accounts, and makes a distinction between them and the fakes she has warned about.
“Fake dommes are an actual problem but catfish dommes is becoming its own thing as its own fetish,” Nooday told me. “We’re only ‘scamming’ people that legitimately want to be scammed.”
While the thrill of being scammed is certainly part of it, some subs see the rise of catfish dommes as a function of supply and demand as well. There are only so many people working as real dommes, which limits the attention any one of them can offer clients. With catfish dommes, the potential labour pool is nearly endless—and those in it can assume any identity you desire.
“The fake catfish dommes are just as pretty, often prettier, offer more, are often men so they know what men want, yet they have rock bottom prices,” said Martin. “But online they can be as real as real dommes—sometimes better.”
And if your kink is being degraded by beautiful women, who could be more beautiful or degrading than a catfish?
Catfish domme Anime Princess said she decided to branch out from regular findom last week “since I loved anime.” For her, the animated character offers greater flexibility when it comes to attending to clients’ needs.
“I change my ‘personality’ depending on how my subs want me to act,” she told me. “I think all the work consists [of] creating bonds with people who have this fetish and trying to fulfil it as best as you can.”
Anime Princess believes most of the 100 or so people operating catfish findom accounts are women, but there are some men, too. In addition to cartoon princesses, subs can now find dommes posing as Kylie Jenner, Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn, “Anime Britney Spears,” and, yes, Dory.
Findom Dory told me she’s a regular domme who created the account as a parody of catfish. But even Dory has gotten messages from “timewasters,” what people in findom call subs who seek attention without actually sending cash. This raises of the question of how one satirizes a fetish community where women pretend to be scammers pretending to be women (or, in this case, an animated fish).
“The internet is a weird place,” the cartoon fish dominatrix told me. “Is Dory getting a tribute?” she added.
The established dommes I talked to emphasised the professionalism of their work, which included feeling out a sub’s financial situation, kinks, and limits before engaging in rinse sessions. But one sub told me thinks that the supposedly “harmless fetish” is an addiction for the majority of clients, whether they’re married men or “socially awkward, lonely virgins.”
“I think that most dommes are trying to [be] responsible, caring, and actually talk to their subs,” said Peter, “but honestly, I think that too many [subs] aren’t looking for that and they just want to have kinky fun without thinking about it too much.”
This can have real financial consequences. Eddie told me that findom has put him almost $12,987 in debt. Asked if it was worth it, he said, “Honestly, no.”
“It’s just too easy, in a way,” said Peter. “Whenever you feel bad or lonely or you want to have ‘fun’ you just open Twitter and Discord and get into it.”
According to Abbie Nooday, the real-life domme who now operates catfish accounts, the traditional domme community is “very split” on the rise of catfishism.
“[I have seen] a couple of catfishes try to catfish by impersonating actual dommes which is probably furthering the hate for it,” said Nooday. “However, that is considered a huge faux pas and I and the dommes I follow stick more to impersonating cartoon characters or someone like Morticia Addams.” She said she also knows of at least one dominatrix who impersonated herself.
Anime Princess seemed similarly untroubled by the use of other women’s photos. “Most of the girls used for catfish accounts are famous/porn stars, and their pictures are used a lot for catfishing, so I don’t think they care about it,” she said.
Without weighing in on the impersonation issue, Sara Bakeman—the experienced domme who shared her session prices—offered a harsher assessment of catfish findom in general, calling it “a toxic trend” that’s “fuckin’ S.T.U.P.I.D!”
“Men whined and bitched when they got played, they even made a freaking show about it! ???????? Now this is what they crave!? Bullshit!” said Bakeman. “You want to be taken for what you have and support a fictitious ‘figure’ then you might as well send to a random person because you’re supporting someone who disrespects what hard work I put into this EVERYDAY, what hard work we ALL put in everyday!”
Bakeman has also watched the rise of fake dommes depress prices in real-time, saying, “It’s definitely being felt by us all.” She believes catfish fetishists are mostly younger, inexperienced men who just “want a temporary drain.”
Though it’s rarely considered a legacy industry, technology has disrupted sex work has just like any other profession. On social media, the enduring control that often characterised relationships between dominatrixes and their paypigs is being replaced by something closer to gig work. Now, with catfish fetishism, getting dominated by your dream girl can be as easy as ordering an Amazon gift card (a popular form of payment to dommes).
While still relatively small compared to older fetish communities, catfishism seems poised to take off. One woman said she received at least $900 in her first week as catfish and two men told me they exclusively patronize catfish for financial domination now. Some even see impersonator accounts as a transitional phase before more advanced forms of catfishing become possible.
“With face-changing technology improved like you have with Snapchat, I can easily see that in the future we will have webcam girls that are secretly boys but use an app,” said Martin.
The internet has forced everyone to innovate. For some, that means fetishizing the rampant fakery of the internet itself.
“Men are always looking for the better, most unique thing to get off too,” a catfish posing as singer Ariana Grande told me. “Let’s be honest.”