There has been a lot of speculation about whether Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was the victim of someone claiming online to be the love of his life or whether he was in on the hoax. It all came to light in a story published Wednesday at the sports site Deadspin.com.
Regardless of how this case turns out, there are plenty of cases of people who have fallen for people online who aren't who they say they are. Often these cases involve some type of financial scam like "send me money so I can buy a plane ticket to meet you" or "I just had an accident and need money right away." I've even heard of cases where the people meet and get married only to find out that the new spouse is more interested in money than a loving relationship.
FBI warning about online dating scams
On Valentine's day last year, the FBI posted a web page, Beware of Online Dating Scams with warnings that your online "date" may only be interested in your money if he or she:
- Presses you to leave the dating website you met through and to communicate using personal email or instant messaging;
- Professes instant feelings of love;
- Sends you a photograph of himself or herself that looks like something from a glamour magazine;
- Claims to be from the U.S. and is traveling or working overseas;
- Makes plans to visit you but is then unable to do so because of a tragic event; or
- Asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimization).
The U.S. State Department also has a web page on Internet Dating and Romance Scams, often by people who claim to live outside the U.S. Some of the tell-tale signs include:
- The scammer and the victim meet online -- often through Internet dating or employment sites.
- The scammer asks for money to get out of a bad situation or to provide a service.
- Photographs that the scammer sends of "him/herself" show a very attractive person. The photo appears to have been taken at a professional modeling agency or photographic studio.
- The scammer has incredibly bad luck -- often getting into car crashes, arrested, mugged, beaten or hospitalized -- usually all within the course of a couple of months. They often claim that their key family members (parents and siblings) are dead. Sometimes, the scammer claims to have an accompanying child overseas who is very sick or has been in an accident.
- The scammer claims to be a native-born American citizen, but uses poor grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker.
- Sometimes the scammer will use eloquent romantic language that is plagiarized from the Internet.
Match.com warns people to always meet in public and stay in a public place (don't go to your date's home). Also tell a friend about the date and where you're going. Stay sober and drive yourself to and from the first meeting. eHarmony warns to never give out a credit card number, mother's maiden name or other private information that could be used to access your financial accounts and to never send money to someone you meet online, especially by wire transfer.
Datemyschool.com suggests that you "join a dating site you can trust," one that authenticates users and moderates the validity of profiles. They also recommend that you do your research ahead of time including "Google the person you're chatting with to ensure they are who they say they are." This site, and several others, advise that you have an online face-to-face webcam chat "before meeting to make sure your partner is real." I would add that you make sure you keep your clothes on during that first chat.