How to Avoid Being Catfished Like Manti Te'o

We feel bad for the guy, we do. But surely there were signs, Manti! Here's how to save yourself from being hoodwinked online

Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame college football star and Heisman trophy runner-up, says he was the victim of an online hoax. He fell for girlfriend Lennay Kekua -- supposedly a 22 year-old Stanford University student -- and mourned her death from leukemia. Even though they never met or even Skype’d (they communicated strictly over Internet or phone), Manti Te’o called her “the love of my life.” He said that she died around the same time as his grandmother. “I miss ’em, but I know that I’ll see them again one day,” he told ESPN at the time. He might see grandma but, it turns out, Lennay never existed to begin with. How could this have happened?

“Not everyone is raised in a healthy family, and some people are not raised to know what a healthy dating relationship looks like,” says Dr. Stephanie Knarr, a marriage and family therapist in Washington D.C. “ I can only assume it is likely that Manti Te'o had had simply not been taught this in his young life. Some of the news articles I read blame him. Personally, I think we should not engage in blaming the victim (or saying this puts a mark on Notre Dame University), and instead focus on teaching American youth about healthy dating relationships.”

Have you ever seen the movie Catfish, a 2010 documentary by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman that revealed the startling details of a Facebook romance that wasn’t what it seemed? It’s not a happy story. And, considering there’s an MTV show about catfishing now, it’s also not an uncommon occurrence. If you are trying your hand in love online, here are ways to avoid being “catfished” yourself:

Be a fact-checker.
“Even a celebrity sports figure is vulnerable to being fooled online, where people’s identities are not always as they seem,” says Carole Lieberman, M.D., psychiatrist and author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets. It’s amazing how much information you can find on a person with a Google search and just a few clicks. Be your own detective from the get-go.

Meet up.
It’s not convenient if you live far away, but if you’re within striking distance, schedule an in-person with a potential partner before too much time passes. “If you’ve gotten involved with someone you met online, make a plan to meet up with them as soon as possible, says Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure. “It’s easy to hide behind texts, emails and even phone calls.”

Use Skype.
If you can’t meet in person, this is the next best way to see your paramour face-to-face.

Run it by your friends.
If you think someone you’re “seeing” online might not be truthful, run it by a trusted friend. You don’t have to make a documentary like the Catfish guys to get to the bottom of things.

Set a deadline.
If you’ve been corresponding with someone for months or even years (!) chances are that both of you are more wrapped up in the idea of a relationship than interested in having an actual one. Give yourself a cut-off point and then have a relationship IRL.

If it’s too good to be true…
If someone says they have a high-paying job, model looks and a Ferrari…what the hell are they doing IM’ing with a stranger on the Internet? “If you go online, be careful of profiles or photos that seem too good to be true,” says Lieberman. “And be sure to ask a lot of questions before you meet them. If there’s anything that feels weird or iffy, don’t let desperation override your instincts.”

Don’t be afraid of offending.
Ask for proof. It’s not rude, it’s smart and if a potential partner is bothered by this, you can bet he or she is not all they seem. “If you’re talking about getting together and are always getting the excuse that someone is too busy, needs to cancel or is a no show these are telltale signs that it could be a scam,” says Levine.

Be honest with yourself.
Just like the wife who looks the other way or the woman who is cheating right under her husband’s nose, you probably already know when something is fishy. Keeping yourself in denial is no way to live your life.

Be an adult.
In the words of Joan Rivers: Grow up! Can we stop trying to meet people on Farmville or fantasy football leagues or Simms? These games are for exactly the type of people who would believe a fake romance.

Get out there.
It’s easy to hide online, not just the aspects of your looks or personality that you don’t like -- it also allows you to hide from life. Try meeting people through friends or doing activities you enjoy.

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