"Catfishing" a Real Phenomenon Online - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

"Catfishing" a Real Phenomenon Online

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The Deadspin.com story that broke the hoax involving a Notre Dame football student. The Deadspin.com story that broke the hoax involving a Notre Dame football student.

A bizarre soap opera involving an All-American linebacker from Notre Dame, and his supposed girlfriend, is a lesson for anyone hoping to meet their true love online.

Manti Te'o says he was duped into believing a woman he met on the Internet, a women he called his girlfriend, had died of cancer. He says it was all a cruel joke. If true, Te'o wouldn't be the only victim of a strange phenomenon called "catfishing."

A catfish is a person who pretends to be someone else on social media, to try to pull you into a romantic relationship online. Manti Te'o says that's what happened to him, and experts say he's not alone.

Manti Te'o's "girlfriend" looked young, pretty and fun. She called herself "Lennay" and tweeted her affection, until she died from Leukemia in September. But the woman shown on Lennay's twitter page is not named Lennay. And she's still very much alive. Someone "borrowed" her photo, and Te'o insisted he fell for it.

"Sometimes we can be so desiring and longing to be in a relationship that we miss the major signs that are like neon flashing lights," Dr. Argie Allen, a relationship therapist and the director of Clinical Training at Drexel University, explained. Te'o says he was heartbroken when she died during his senior year at Notre Dame, and that loss spurred him to excel on the football field. Wednesday, the website Deadspin revealed it was all a hoax. "It does happen, and it happens more than we know," Dr. Allen insisted.

Another man who said he was the victim of an online hoax made a movie about it called "Catfish," which then turned into a series on MTV. That's how the phenomenon got its name. In this digital age, experts say too many people may be too willing to believe the fairytale. "If you're going to develop a relationship with someone, you actually want to see who they are, and not just in a picture," Dr. Allen said.

Even after a year-long relationship, Te'o says he never actually met Lennay, even though he told some reporters he had. If he's lying? "Often times it's to seek attention, and this guy's clearly got attention, he's really a star athlete, but he may even want more attention," Dr. Allen told Fox 29. And he certainly got it.

So how do you avoid getting catfished? You need to meet in person, sooner rather than later. And you should insist on meeting their friends and family. That's going to help tell you who they really are-- and confirm that they really exist.

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