How easy or hard is it to create a fictional person and relationship online?
Joseph: It's quite easy to create a profile. You generally just create a second email address. The profile itself -- filling it out, making it seem like a legitimate person -- is not that difficult. It's quite fun -- anyone who's ever told a story or is a good writer with somewhat of an imagination can think up an interesting person, can create a fake profile. Often times, people just use their own life to fill out the profile and will change the profile picture, or maybe the occupation to something they wished they looked like or a job that they wish they had had.
What gets tricky is when you get into phone numbers. You can actually set up a phone and have an area code of a different state. If you're living in California, but want to appear like you are living in Oregon, you can get a Google Voice number to have an Oregon area code to make your story straight.
Are there any signs that Manti Te'o should have seen?
Joseph: Well, there are a lot of red flags, the main one being meeting up. If someone gets cagey about meeting up and is reluctant, that's clearly a red flag.
Schulman: Another red flag comes with people who have generally a very dramatic life situation. Car accidents and cancer happen to be things we see a lot of. In this case, a little too late, if I were to go back and say to Manti now, as hard as this is to hear, the likelihood of your girlfriend getting into a terrible car accident only to discover that she has leukemia, in my eyes indicates that there very well might be something going on here.
What is your advice to people in similar online relationships?
Joseph: I think when it comes to meeting someone online, there's kind of an equivalent of a virtual contraception that needs to be practiced to have a secure, healthy, online relationship. And I think that requires at least 30 minutes of research on the person that you're talking to. Looking at their Facebook page, reading their posts, looking at their Twitter page, looking where they went to school. Just making sure that they match up. We're not talking about stalking a person, but just making sure that their story really checks out because often times what we found is that within 10 minutes of researching some stories you see the hole right away.
Schulman: It's also important to talk about it with your friends and family. A lot of people keep online relationships very private, there's still sort of a sigma surrounding online dating. People don't want to be embarrassed and they don't feel comfortable sharing how much they feel for someone because even they know, having never met in person they might feel a little crazy that they're so in love with this person.