'Catfish' Creators Believe Manti Te'o Hoax Goes Deeper

Online dating experts share thoughts on the Manti Te'o story.

January 17, 2013, 6:56 PM

Jan. 17, 2013 — -- Manti Te'o has been "Catfished," it has been said by many -- duped into falling for a fake online girlfriend. The term and story might be new to some, but to MTV viewers it's just like watching another episode of the show "Catfish."

The docu-series, which stars Nev Schulman and Max Joseph, follows Internet dating hoaxes. Schulman himself was the subject of the 2010 movie "Catfish," which spawned the series, because he himself was sucked in by an Internet pretender -- or a "catfish" -- who built an elaborate fake life.

Manti Te'o has now gone through something similar. Lennay Kekua, the woman he claimed was his girlfriend, was nothing more than a fake Twitter profile and someone pretending to be the woman on the other side of the computer. As details about the hoax emerge, Schulman has jumped in, reaching out to Te'o and launching his own investigation. Schulman says he believes Te'o was a victim in this story and that the story goes much deeper.

More: 'Catfish' Star Offers Te'o Help

These are just a few things we learned when we caught up with the "Catfish" duo today. Here's what they said:

ABC News: Is Manti Te'o innocent? Do you believe he really didn't know Lennay Kekua was fake?

Schulman: From what I gathered, and from some contact that has been made with me with people who have been involved in this story directly, I get the impression that this is a much larger scheme than he would have thought.

It doesn't seem to me that he is in on it, although, of course, that is yet to be seen. I think, even though it seems hard to believe and he is a high-profile football player, he is just as vulnerable and susceptible to being Catfished as anyone.

What do you say to the fact that he said he had met her in person?

Schulman: It really is yet to be seen. I think there is more to find out about this story. I've seen a lot of rumors about his possible involvement and motives. None of which have been verified, of course.

It wouldn't surprise me if he was introduced to her online, developed a relationship with her which he felt was sincere, and may have likely had plans to meet her at an event or after a football game, she said she was there and said she missed him. The feeling of being there with that person is real, things they tell you about being there are authentic, but they might not have in fact been there. It will be interesting to see what his answer is regarding whether, in fact, he did actually meet her in person.

You've done your own investigation into this case. What have you discovered?

Schulman: It appears as though someone created Lennay's profile on Twitter, at the very least, and was engaged in relationships with people apart from Manti. I was contacted by two of these people, one of whom was pictured as Lennay's sister, and someone else who knows that woman, and someone else who was in a relationship with Lennay before.

Two people reached out to me, over a month ago, asking for my help in uncovering the truth behind this profile. Unfortunately, I didn't see the correspondence until recently, when the story broke. I've since reached out to them, and from what they tell me, I get the impression that this story goes a lot deeper than just the relationship between Manti and Lennay.

Joseph: Perhaps there were other people that Lennay had been talking to prior to Manti.

Is that something that's typical?

Joseph: That's definitely something that goes with what we've seen. They're generally not one-off relationships with people who engage in Catfishing. People enjoy talking to more than one person, for various different reasons. When we meet them, they generally confess to doing it for a number of years and having spoken to anywhere from one to hundreds of people.

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.

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