Manti Te’o Possible “Catfishing” Hoax Spotlights Online Romance Risks

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Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o has admitted to Katie Couric in an interview that he did in fact lie about his online girlfriend after finding out she didn't exist. However, he still maintains he was the victim of a hoax he had no part in creating.

In fact, one of the major theories about how Notre Dame's football standout ended up with a not-real girlfriend is that he was "catfished." A catfish is a term for someone who creates a fake online persona with the goal of duping someone into a relationship. The term has jumped to the front of popular discussion with the Te'o controversy and a show on MTV.

Falling victim to a catfishing hoax, or any other kind of "sweetheart" scam online, can do a lot more than damage your pride. As Michele Mason of the North Alabama Better Business Bureau explained, there's always the chance "[someone is] reaching out to you as a romantic interest to get your trust so that you'll share your financial information."

According to the BBB, "sweetheart" scams and online dating hoaxes were among the top ten scams of the year in 2011. The rise of social media has made them even more common. Those looking for love on Facebook, Twitter or similar sites can be at particular risk - especially if they're quick to engage with strangers in conversation.

As Valentine's Day approaches, here are some red flags to watch out for if you think you might be "hooked" in a catfishing or similar scam:

  • If the person you're talking to wants to leave a dating site immediately to switch over to a personal email or instant messaging account
  • If they proclaim instant feelings of love
  • If they claim to be from the United States but are currently overseas
  • If they refuse to meet in person or set up face-to-face encounters that keep getting postponed

Any requests for wired money or other financial help should immediately raise concerns. To report suspicious activity, contact the North Alabama BBB.

Watch WHNT News 19 at 6:30 p.m. for Michelle Stark's report on this subject.