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Your Internet girlfriend doesn’t exist: Here’s how to avoid getting ‘Catfished’ like Te’o

Teo CatfishHad enough of the Manti Te’o story this week? Well too bad, because I sure as hell haven’t! If you’ve avoided all forms of Internet, television, print media, and humans who speak for the past few days, you may not have heard that the most heartwarming sports story of the year was a complete lie. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o never had a girlfriend who died the same day as his grandmother. He never had a girlfriend. Because she wasn’t real.

Te’o got Catfished. He got Catfished hard.

The reference here, of course, is to the 2010 documentary Catfish. The film follows Yaniv “Nev” Schulman as he attempts to meet with Megan, a girl he has on online relationship with. “Megan” turns out to be the creation of a woman named Angela Pierce who was running various Facebook accounts to interact with Schulman and pretend Megan was real.

Of course, the difference with the Te’o story is that, at least it would appear, he Catfished himself. His motives aren’t clear, but what is obvious is that he’s had a pretty difficult time keeping a straight story about his fake online girlfriend. He’s trying to play the victim and getting stuck in the various holes of his own story. If you want to get really weird, the creators of Catfish the documentary were accused of faking the entire film, too. So, in that case, we’ve come full circle.

Is your brain melting out of your ears yet?

Regardless of who Catfished who or whose girlfriend is real or living in Canada and we met at summer camp and she was totally here last weekend you guys just missed her I swear, the point is that it’s become far too easy to fabricate an entire person.

But hey, it’s 2013 folks, which means there are a variety of ways we can keep ourselves from getting Catfished. Before you buy a plane ticket to meet that new guy or send a bouquet of “I’m sorry for your loss” flowers to your newly-deceased love interest’s family, do just the tiniest amount of Internet sleuthing and maybe save yourself some trouble (and heartache).

Google Search by Image

This should be your first move if you’re getting into any sort of online relationship whose authenticity you’d like to verify. Do you have a LinkedIn photo of a potential boss who seems odd? Or one from Facebook of a girl who keeps blowing off those in-person meet ups? Then clarity could be yours oh-so-easily.

search by imageAll you have to do is download a picture to your desktop and upload it into Search by Image or copy and paste the image’s URL, and boom: resolution. If the same photo is tying them back to someone with a different name, it’s pretty clear you’ve been played. Or if it matches up to some 80 odd images of a Shutterstock model… need I explain further?

It’s really easy to grab someone else’s photos and tie them to an entirely made up name; Googling that made-up name isn’t going to be very helpful. But pictures are a little harder to lie with. If that image is leading back to another person’s Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or Facebook page, then consider the red flags raised.

Video chat

Go ahead. Get that “duh” and huge eye roll out of your system. Okay, can we proceed? Yes, it should be obvious that a Skype call or Google Hangout is the first step in protecting yourself from getting Catfished (can we call it “getting Te’oed” yet?). The football player apparently never made that connection, instead conducting an entire year-long relationship over Twitter, Facebook, texts, and phone calls. Not buying it.

But where Te’o failed, you don’t have to. If you have a smartphone or nearly any desktop or laptop computer, you are equipped for video chat. And if your potential paramour or whomever makes excuses, you should probably start preparing yourself for a letdown.

Facebook Timeline

As much as you might hate Timeline (and you probably do), the robust life-collection the new format offers can aid your investigation. The Timeline automatically has an event marker for each user showing when they joined Facebook.

Of course there are no hard and fast rules for when and how and why people choose to join Facebook, but exercise a little common sense. If someone tells you he was in a frat in college and constantly talks about his buddies, that fact that he didn’t have a Facebook page until last week doesn’t make a ton of sense. In fact, if you “met” someone recently and they also only recently joined Facebook, that could indicate they uh… aren’t real.

year joined facebook
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Also, while you’re on Facebook, take a look for these things:

  • Is the person alone in most of his or her pictures?
  • Are people tagged in his or her photos?
  • Have people written on his or her page?
  • Does he or she have a lot of friends?

Yes, no, no, and no? It’s not looking good..

Background checks

Maybe it’s gotten to this point. You’ve Googled and Facebooked this person until you can Google and Facebook no more. While there might be enough to make you raise an eyebrow, you still aren’t totally willing to write them off as a figment of some weirdo’s imagination (a weirdo who really wants to mess with you). Now, it’s time to turn to the background check.

There are a handful of sites you can use: PeopleFinders, OpenBook, ZabaSearch, and WhitePages will all return various amounts of information based on the data you have to start with. Generally, you’ll be able to verify age and location, but for more details, you’ll have to pony up some cash.

So Manti, if you’re somewhere out there reading this, grappling with the confusion of your fake girlfriend (or trying to figure out how in the hell you’re going to try and get away with this), just know that next time, there are ways to not get Catfished. Or Te’oed. It’s 2013, everyone. You have very few excuses for this sort of nonsense anymore.

Oh, and Te’o, just fess up.

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Molly McHugh
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Before coming to Digital Trends, Molly worked as a freelance writer, occasional photographer, and general technical lackey…
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