What is catfishing? Safety tips for parents

A teenage girl in California was "catfished" by a man who then murdered her mother and grandparents on Friday, police said.

It's unclear at this time exactly what social media platform or app was used between the suspect, Austin Lee Edwards, and the teen. 

RELATED COVERAGE: Riverside triple-murder suspect, former Virginia state trooper passed background checks, psych evals

The term "catfishing" generally means someone impersonating another individual on social media. Catfishing cases have been reported on some of the biggest platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and even gaming platforms like Roblox and Fortnite. 

This can be done in a variety of ways - using someone else's picture, a fake name or age, or gender. The term continues to evolve. 

RELATED COVERAGE: Former Virginia state trooper 'catfished' teen girl before murdering California family: police

The reasoning behind catfishing varies with each case. A catfisher may do it to get someone's personal information like their address or to scam them out of money. 

One important precaution that parents are urged to take is to talk with kids and warn them about catfishing. Educate them on what it is and why it's dangerous. Next, experts suggest parents set rules with children then look into installing safety software, which can help filter out harmful content on children's social media.

Make sure you have open and ongoing conversations about online strangers, and that your kids feel comfortable telling you about who they talk to online.

Lauri Burns, a trafficking survivor and the founder of "The Teen Project" is disturbed by a recent analysis that found thousands of  convicted pedophiles in California have been released from prison after only spending less than a year in prison. Her organization works to help girls who are homeless or sex trafficked or both.

"It's horrific that they're being released and if you're a parent and you don't think they're near you, look at the Megan's Law website and put your zip code in and you will see how many predators are close  to your house. I don't think people realize it," said Burns.

Burns said a lot of the predators find their victims online.

"Nowadays at least 50% of girls are trafficked online. Half of the kids were trafficked on Facebook in 2021 and Facebook is not the most popular app for the kids. It's Instagram. It's TikTok, dancing, looking older than you are and I tell parents you need to track them," said Burns.

Burns said there are a lot of software options for parents to track their kids' online activity, even apps that track keystrokes. 

"If you go online and look for parenting software, particularly key logger because the key logger will tell you everything they typed in whether it's in messaging, email. It'll tell you the exact keys. If you're not tracking your kid, you cannot roll back the tape if they disappear," said Burns.

Burns said she has been devastated after hearing of the case in Riverside where a former Virginia police officer is believed to have murdered a teenager's family after catfishing her online.

"It's not about the kid. We trust the kid.  It's that we don't trust the people that are following them that look like little boys because there's no way to prove who they are. They're hiding in plain sight. She has to live with this for the rest of her life that she had a misstep online," she said.

Nick Ferro, who calls himself the "Socal pedo snatcher," has dedicated countless hours the past year and a half to trying to catch pedophiles in Southern California.

"I have a decoy and we act like we are 11 to 13 years old, boy or girl," said Ferro.

Ferro said he then finds predators online and meets up with them to expose them. He has worked with law enforcement in the past, and now does citizen's arrests. He said he decided to do this after predators impacted his family.

"I had some of my family become victims and the cops didn't really help at all so if I can expose people before they touch a real kid, that's better for me," said Ferro.

Ferro reacted to the latest report too.

"That's not right. We all want to protect our family. I have a young one. He's turning four, and I'd do anything to protect him and his friends. It's nerve wracking. Why can't they do long sentences," said Ferro.