Consider this something that belongs under the “ripped from the headlines” category. Unless you’ve avoided any major news network and ESPN in the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen at least one or two headlines recounting the tale of a hapless Notre Dame linebacker – Manti Te’o. To get the clueless up to speed, the Heisman candidate became probably one of the most famous victims of catfishing in a hoax that supposedly lasted for nearly three years. Catfishing is a term coined to describe an elaborate dating scam where a con artist assumes a persona to convince a mark (victim) to usually buy them things or directly send them money under the guise of a relationship. Usually the scammer will never meet the mark in real life, and unfortunately the con artist will usually bleed the mark dry and vanish without a trace.
Now in the case of Manti Te’o, his con artist apparently never wanted anything more from him than his time and devotion in a cruel form of emotional torture. Te’o managed to maintain a three-year relationship with a virtual girlfriend whom he never met. He believes he was led on via an elaborate ruse that included fake social profiles, lengthy phone calls and voice mails – however this is not the norm.
Sidebar: I’m not going to lie, as someone who has dated online quite a bit, I’m side eyeing this story in more ways than one.
- After three years, if you never meet the object of your affection I’d hardly call that person a girlfriend/boyfriend.
- I remember star athletes in high school and college. And a star athlete in college is a walking ticket to a lucrative MRS degree for gold digging coeds who literally throw themselves at these athletes. I have a hard time believing that Te’o was 100% faithful to his virtual girlfriend for three years.
- Te’o’s faux girlfriend was supposedly seriously injured in a car accident as well as later claiming to suffer from leukemia. Neither time did Te’o ever visit her, even though occasionally he was in the same state where she was being hospitalized.
- Timing is everything, and as a publicist I can admit that even negative PR is better than no one talking about you. The height of this scandal in which he allowed ND coaches to release a story about the death of his grandmother (true) and his girlfriend (false) within hours of each other just so happened to coincide with Heisman season – nothing more to say.
Whether you believe that Te’o is telling the truth or not isn’t the purpose of this article. As the title mentioned, this is a cautionary tale. Now, to be fair, you can get conned by someone you meet offline who ends up having the same motives as a catfish scammer. So, read on for some handy warnings:
Don’t stay virtual forever!This is really probably one of the best ways to avoid a catfish scam. They’re characterized by the scammer’s reticence to actually meet you in real life. Usually most people who are looking for love online do not want to stay “hypothetical” forever. So if you meet someone who keeps deflecting or finding an excuse not to meet you offline, run – don’t walk – to the nearest exit.
Money can’t buy love!
Seriously, buying gifts “just because” is nice. But if you start to feel like all your paramour ever seems to want is for you to buy them something more expensive than the last trinket – or they outright treat you like an ATM, you might be getting scammed. Incidentally, this transcends to offline relationships too. Additionally, someone who tries to milk you for money or trinkets early on in a “relationship” should be avoided.
Don’t be embarrassed to Google a new love. Now I’m not talking about stalking them and doing an Ancestry.com search on their entire family. But don’t be afraid to poke around their social profiles and do a little cross referencing. Me thinks that if Te’o had actually done a bit of digging (assuming his story is true) he wouldn’t be sitting here now with the proverbial egg on his face in front of the whole nation.
Trust your gut!
And most importantly, never ignore your intuition. It’s very hard to keep up a long term scam. So, eventually someone who’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes will do something that gives you a reason to pause. Please don’t ignore this moment and chalk it up to you being suspicious for no reason. Your first response in scenarios like this tends to be the right response.
If you think you might be the victim of a catfishing scam or want to read more about how you can prevent it from happening, visit the BBB for more details.