Have you ever gotten the feeling that someone is duping you online? It happened to Manti Te’o, a college football star who played for Notre Dame. In a recent statement, Te’o incidated that he was embarrassed over it. Worse, Te’o became distraught upon believing that his Internet girlfriend (“Lennay Kekua”) had died of leukemia – later uncovered to be a hoax.
Long before the topic of ‘fake profiles’ was explored in the documentary and TV show (both called “Catfish”), people were using false profiles online to deceive each other. As Nev and Max often discover on “Catfish,” the one with the fake online identity is often someone the ‘victim’ knows. Someone attempted to deceive me in this fashion about 15 years ago.
Back in the 1990s (when everyone was on dial-up and using America Online), I didn’t know what I do now. I didn’t have friends that knew how to track IP addresses and discover others’ true identities with relative ease. Instead, I navigated this new virtual world purely by instinct as a teen, strictly heeding a warning from my mother about ‘Internet people.’
Back then, if you met someone meaningful on the Internet, you just didn’t talk about it. Most people didn’t consider it real. Now that online dating is rather popular and people use the Internet to network, the stigma is mostly gone. However, fakes still exist. If you have suspicions, how can you determine whether the person you’re talking to is for real before you become emotionally invested?
Red Flag #1: Random Message
Assuming a nickname myself to protect my identity, I chatted with various online friends. One evening, I received a seemingly random IM from a guy. He liked all of the same music as me; he was about the same age and my type. It seemed too good to be true, and how did he even find me? The random nature of the connection was my first warning, and I trusted my instinct on the matter.
Similarly, the concerned individuals on “Catfish” all have something in common: their instincts are alerted and for one reason or another, they’re suspicious.
Red Flag #2: Delays
Even in my first conversation with this person, I noticed certain delays. He claimed to be a huge Beatles fan, but when we talked about music, there was always a delay. Clearly the person behind the screen name was faking knowledge and looking up the information, which took even longer with slower Internet connections.
I figured that this person was a fake in less than an hour, and we definitely didn’t get into talking about phone calls or meeting. However, on “Catfish,” the online people in question often delay chatting on the phone or meeting in person because they have something to hide.
Manti Te’o had the same experience; his online girlfriend apparently agreed to meet him, then failed to show up.
Red Flag #3: Online Network Profiles
If someone’s fake, you can usually find discrepancies in their profiles. Most people have Facebook profiles, and most of the online relationships depicted on “Catfish” happen by Facebook connection. Red flags on Facebook include:
- Over time, no new pictures
- Person does not tag friends in pictures; no one tags the person
- Low amount of friends and limited interaction with them
Back in the days of AOL, it was relatively easy to hide behind a screen name or pseudonym. Now, everyone is expected to have multiple social media profiles, especially Facebook. Communication programs like Skype are free to use for face-to-face online communication, so there isn’t much of an excuse for avoiding the use of it.
If someone really is fake and you are already emotionally invested, you should eventually confront them to provide yourself with some closure. When I figured out that the guy I had been talking to was a fake (not long after we’d started talking), I decided to turn things around on ‘him’ so I could figure out who was trying to mess with me.
Sure enough, I was able to get another e-mail address out of this person. It was a Hotmail account. From there, I tried logging into the Hotmail account and learned the password hint. The very password hint let me discern the identity of the person faking me out. I was even able to log into the email account and look around in the e-mail boxes. Ultimately, it was a group of girls and I was able to confront them by leaving an e-mail message in their own inbox.
They used the e-mail inbox to communicate without sending e-mails (a way that makes a message supposedly untraceable), but because I guessed the password, they failed in hiding their identities. I knew better than to trust them again. One of these girls eventually went on to become a contestant in a modeling show in another country. Had I been vindictive, this malicious activity could have come back to haunt her reputation via social media.
Similarly on “Catfish,” this happened to Joe. Joe thinks he’s been talking to a model named Kari Ann – in fact, his friend Rose is the one behind the Facebook page. The worst thing about it is that Rose isn’t attempting to be malicious; she really has feelings for Joe, but since she’s lied to him, Joe isn’t interested in giving Rose another chance as friends or beyond.
For Te’o, the issue was intensely involved; he indicated that he was deeply emotionally involved with Kekua, the fake girlfriend.
If you think you’re being faked out, trust your instincts and talk to a trusted friend about any ‘red flags’ that may appear.
More from Tara M. Clapper:
Lessons From Frodo: 3 Ways Character Analysis Can Help Your Relationship
I’m With the Band: Tips For Dating a Musician
5 Tips For Dating an Unemployed Man