(CBS) –It’s the headline-making sports saga of 2013, and it’s all about what happened off-the-field: Notre Dame superstar Manti Te’o fell in love with a fake girlfriend he thought had died.
The Hollywood storyline had the nation sympathizing — until it was exposed. Te’o was duped in a scheme called “catfishing.” Catfishing, per the Urban Dictionary, is the phenomenon of internet predators who fabricate online identities and entire social circles to trick people into emotional relationships.
With one in five relationships starting online, CBS 2’s Brad Edwards takes a closer look. He talked with two locals who have been catfished.
It’s 21st century’s boy meets girl.
Both parks and recreation employee Toni Galster and chiropractic physician Liselotte Schuster were both duped after they joined online dating websites.
“I see this Jack Jones, and he’s hot,” says Galster, of Antioch. “I wink. This one was different, and he winked back.”
Galster’s was a relationship born on Match.com in November 2012. It appeared he lived in McHenry County and Toni says he said all the right things.
“He actually cared,” she says.
Then on Christmas Eve it abruptly ended. “And voila — all of a sudden he needs financial help,” she said. “I could feel my heart drop.”
She has the actual time stamp of that online communication –- the exact point at which her heart broke.
Dr. Schuster, of Evanston, says she constantly emailed her online match.
In her case, the beau she met on Match.com asked her for money, explaining he and a few other pilots were purchasing a plane.
She bit, to the tune of $22,000.
The “love” she fell for was actually an international Internet crime ring.
Psychiatrist Robert Hsiung says some people are more susceptible to online dating scammers. Particularly vulnerable are people who are overly trusting and conflict-averse, he says.
“I didn’t want to say no because I thought he would leave me,” Schuster says.
“I didn’t want to blow it,” Galster agrees.
Dr. Phil, speaking to CBS 2, says people who fall for romance hoaxes “have been betrayed, they have been abandoned, they have been left.”
Galster says she was maybe too ready.
“After 10 years of being single and living with cats, yeah,” she says.
For her, the story Te’o hit home.
“It made me sick because I’m like, I know that feeling,” Galster says.
In the end, she and Schuster saw more red flags than the Soviet Army waves.
“I’m human,” Schuster says of her mistake. “My advice would be: Do not act out of desperation.”
Hsuing, the psychiatrist, said using common sense is perhaps easier said than done.
“It’s not common sense to play the lottery. It’s not common sense to root for the Cubs, but we’re all wishful thinkers,” he says.
Match.com — the service the two women used – says its website provides safety tips, including a suggestion never to send someone money, especially someone who claims to be stuck overseas.
Dr. Phil, who has interviewed many a catfish victim, said you shouldn’t shop at the grocery store when you’re hungry. If you’re really hungry for a relationship you might not be a discerning shopper, he says.
He offers these 16 characteristics of online dating scammers, who:
1) Often pose as professionals working overseas.
2) Establish a relationship with a potential victim.
3) Usually reveal quick declaration of love.
4) Begin creating stories to elicit money.
5) Have poor grammar and spelling.
6) Use instant messaging to help mask their broken English.
7) Plagiarize love letters or poetry.
8) Provide few concrete details about their lives or work.
9) Send fake photos.
10) Want to see you on webcam.
11) Create an emergency and ask you to wire money.
12) Ask you to wire money to them so they can be with you.
13) Ask you to handle banking for them in the United States.
14) Ask you for personal information or passwords.
15) Pretend to be fellow victims of a dating scam.
16) Pretend to be law enforcement officers pursuing dating scammers.