Something smells fishy in South Bend. Catfishy, that is. (Sorry, we had to.)
After months of tear-jerking, soft-focus sob stories about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s brave struggle to overcome the tragic death of his young girlfriend, Deadspin.com published a shocking revelation: Te’o’s lost love, Lennay Kekua, does not (and never did) exist. At least, not outside of the cyber universe.
If you own a TV, computer, radio, or phone, you already know this. But to recap, both Te’o and Notre Dame have issued statements claiming the linebacker was the victim of a bizarre and elaborate Internet hoax, and that he truly believed he was involved with a totally-real-and-not-pretend woman.
If that’s true—and at this point, that’s a Touchdown Jesus-sized if—then Te’o was fooled by a “catfish,” someone who creates a fake online personality in an attempt to dupe an unsuspecting victim.
“A lot of this Manti Te’o story just doesn’t add up,” says Julie Spira, an online dating expert and author of multiple books on the subject, including The Perils of Cyber-Dating. “But I think there’s still too much we don’t know to pass judgment.”
Regardless of whether Te’o is a victim, Spira says there are thousands of men out there who have been hoodwinked by bogus Internet relationships. “The World Wide Web is a lot like the wild wild west,” she says. “Some people may by trying to get back at someone, or playing a prank. Or someone who is unpopular may just want to reinvent him or herself.”
The bottom line is Nikki, that hot 21-year-old Californian who keeps messaging you on Facebook, may actually be a bearded, 48-year-old Polish computer programmer named Dmitri.
Don’t let Dmitri break your heart. Here’s how to spot a fake:
1. She’s picture perfect.
If every photo of her makes her look like a supermodel—or even a nerdy-but-cute girl next door—the chances of her being legit are slim to none, Spira says. “Your ego may try to convince you she’s real, but good-looking women don’t spend a lot of time contacting strange men online.”
2. She “loves” you.
Most online romances begin with long written exchanges. If those early convos are littered with compliments like “you’re so handsome” or “you really get me,” that’s a red flag, Spira explains. Also, if she says “I miss you,” “XOXO,” or anything else that seems emotionally forward for a woman you’ve never met in the flesh, she’s probably bogus, Spira adds.
3. She won’t meet up.
This may seem obvious, but if you live anywhere close to your online sweetheart, a real woman would want to get together. “She may have a really convincing story for why she can’t meet up, or she may just keep canceling at the last minute,” Spira says. “Either way, that’s a warning sign.”
4. She’s foreign.
There are probably one or two lonely, gorgeous women tucked away in remote corners of Russia or China with nothing but an Internet connection to keep them company, but you’re not likely to find one, Spira says. If she’s from outside the U.S., it’s pretty darn likely she’s a fake.
5. She won’t video chat.
It’s 2013, guys. If she can’t figure out how to Skype or FaceTime with you, there’s something wrong with her story, not her technology skills, Spira says.
6. She only talks at midnight.
If she only G-chats you late at night, or whenever you call her she doesn’t answer but calls you back later, something’s up, Spira says. “People who are hiding something—whether it’s a husband she hasn’t told you about or children you didn’t know were part of the picture—and following strange patterns of communication are signs of trouble.”
7. She’s in distress.
If she tells you she’s in some kind of trouble—any kind of trouble—you’re likely headed for heartbreak, Spira says. Whether it’s money problems, an abusive boyfriend, or an expiring visa, tales of woe are a huckster’s best bet at hooking you emotionally, Spira adds.
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