Manti Te’o Hoax Exposes ‘Catfish’ Internet Scams
(LOS ANGELES) -- Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick cited the documentary Catfish in trying to explain how he said star linebacker Manti Te'o became the victim of an elaborate hoax that duped him into believing that his online girlfriend died during the 2012 college football season.
"I would refer all of you, if you're not already familiar with it, with both the documentary called Catfish, the MTV show which is a derivative of that documentary, and the sort of associated things you'll find online and otherwise about catfish, or catfishing," Swarbrick told reporters Wednesday.
The 2010 blockbuster film stars Nev Schulman, who was the real-life victim of a "catfish" scam. Schulman wanted to make the documentary to show how he was sucked in by an Internet pretender -- or a "catfish" -- who built an elaborate fake life.
Schulman made the documentary as he was falling for someone named "Megan," a gorgeous 20-something from Michigan. Their online relationship blossomed until Schulman confronted "Megan."
"Megan" turned out to be a middle-aged mom of two named Angela Wesselman, who later said she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
"It was different. It was something new. It was a little mysterious," Schulman told ABC News in an earlier interview, describing his reaction before he discovered Megan's true identity.
Now, a much wiser Schulman is helping others catch the "catfish" in his new hit series on MTV inspired by the real-life documentary, Catfish: The TV Show.
In one episode, Schulman meets Sunny, who says she has been dating a medical student online named "Jameson" for eight months.
"He's going to be an anesthesiologist. He does online classes," Sunny says of "Jameson" in the episode.
Schulman convinces Sunny to take a road trip to meet "Jameson" face to face and and Sunny later finds out "Jameson" was really a woman who was pretending to be a man online for at least four years.
"I mean who does that," Sunny said in the episode.
For Te'o, 21, the scam was allegedly worse. The Hawaiian said during the season that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of leukemia in September on the same day Te'o's grandmother died, triggering an outpouring of support for Te'o at Notre Dame and in the media.
"If the person you're talking to has a series of family incidents, this is something to watch out for," Schulman said.
As more become connected through various social media outlets, Schulman says these "catfish" hoaxes will continue.
"So long as we're not looking people in the eye face-to-face, there's always going be room, a lot of room for deception," he said.
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