Understanding Cyber Threats: A Guide to Phishing, Spoofing, Ghosting, and Catfishing

The Bark Team | December 23, 2016 | Cyberbullying Internet Safety Tips

Woman reading about the importance of cyber threats

Keeping up with the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats and the terms used to describe threatening online practices can be challenging. Here, you’ll learn about four of the most common terms for such practices – phishing, spoofing, ghosting, and catfishing– and how to talk to your teens about them.


Phishing is the act of committing fraud by posing as a legitimate and often widely-known company or brand. People buy up domains that are closely related in spelling to a real domain and duplicate the actual brand’s website. Then they go about capturing information for the purpose of identity theft. Some take payments for products that don’t exist, and others infect computers with malware. Many internet service providers offer or recommend antivirus programs that contain real-time phishing filters. These filters can block internet pages and websites that are characteristic of phishing. Check with your internet provider to see what you can install to protect the devices in your family.

Kids and teens are not always capable of readily assessing when a news story, company email, or website is fake. Talk to your kids about not providing personal information on the internet, and with younger kids especially, have them ask you before giving any information or paying for something online. For teens, who often have their own money and debit card, let them know these kinds of sites exist. Explain they should look for spelling errors in the URL, don't click links in emails, and leave any site that looks suspicious. Remind them that if something is of interest, but looks suspicious, to go to the actual site. Assure them that if they accidentally get on a bad site to let you know immediately. That way you can help them address any issues that arise on their computers, phones, or cards.


Spoofing is the act of forging an email heading so that it appears it came from someone else. This is common among fraudsters who want to install keyloggers on victims’ computers. They hope to obtain bank account information and passwords. Keyloggers are programs that record and transmit keystrokes. Fortunately, most email service providers have gotten fairly good at sniffing out spoofs. Running and maintaining antivirus and antimalware protection in real time will also help protect your family’s devices.

Let your kids know that if an email has been marked spam, it probably is and do not open it. Most online companies do not request confidential information by email, so if an email ask for personal information, that is a red flag. Spoof emails often have incorrect spellings of names or a generic, “attention member” type of greeting. Spoof emails are often aggressive and meant to incite immediate action. If an email seems suspicious there are ways to check that it is real. Go to the company's website and read their contact policy. Websites that have memberships often have a Messages tab as a way to communicate with their clients. Check to see if the suspicious email is also on the website.


Ghosting is a new term for breaking up with someone by cutting off contact with them completely. The person ghosting ignores any attempts of further contact. They also do not explain why they ended the relationship. Ghosting isn’t just happening after one bad date, but is used to leave even long term relationships. While sometimes a person may leave an unhealthy relationship abruptly for good reason, ghosting is also used as a way to not take responsibility. It is extremely hurtful to the person being ghosted.

Talk to your tweens and teens about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Explain to them what good communication in a relationship looks like, that they can come to you with any questions they have, and that you will listen and provide advice when needed. Talk about the types of unhealthy relationships that people may need to leave without any communication. Talk to your kids about ghosting and let them know what your family values are around healthy and unhealthy relationships.


The term “catfishing” is being used more and more often in today’s digital day and age. Simply put, it's the act of luring someone into a perceived (or real) relationship via an online persona that doesn’t exist. It occurs in many forms, too. For example, individuals may steal others’ photos and use them as their own. They may also claim to have a job they don’t actually have. Or they may build an entire fictional personality from scratch in order to appear “attractive” to the person they are interested in.

Digital threats are hard to spot, and it can be challenging to detect when someone is catfishing, so the best thing to do is teach your kids that people aren’t always who they appear to be online. Talk to them about how catfishing someone is a form of cyberbullying, by creating and using a fake profile to mislead someone, you can cause harm to them. The bully lures their target into a false relationship and then bullies them for believing the lie. Encourage your teen to connect only with people they know in real life, to not disclose personal information on social media sites, and that they should never meet someone they have only had interactions with online.

Talk to Your Teens

Talk to your tweens and teens about the importance of being safe online and the potential risks associated with digital and cyber threats. Tweens and teens are just beginning their foray into relationships and while they may know how to use all the hottest and latest social media apps and internet trends, they do not have the experience necessary to deal with everyone that they meet. Talk to them about their online interactions, the people they are hanging out with in their group chats and ask them about their friends in real life and online.

Being a digital parent may include some struggles along the way, but you can help raise your kids awareness of digital threats and keep them safe by having online safety discussions and being involved in their lives. We support you by Sign up for Bark today!

About Bark

Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.