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Notre Dame football team against the University of Michigan. Notre Dame athletic director Jim Swarbrick said, "Nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota."

Notre Dame hoax latest of online scams

by Sandy McAfee
Jan 17, 2013

“This is, by far, the most bizarre story I’ve covered. Manti Te’o’s deceased girlfriend is a hoax.”

Pete Byrne, sports director for WSBT-TV in South Bend, Indiana, tweeted the preceding statement on Wednesday when news broke that Manti Te’o, linebacker for the Notre Dame University football team and Heisman Trophy finalist, was possibly involved online hoax.

The bizarre details of the Te’o chronicle continue to unfold as media outlets shape the story about the creation of fictionalized Lennay Kekua. But either way, the internet has been the platform for hoaxes for a long time.

One Chicago university professor, who wishes to remain anonymous, shares the personal details of an online relationship with someone who turned out to not who she thought.

In the 80s, before the existence of the Internet and social media, this professor met and fell in love someone she met on CompuServe, a computer hub where people called in and talked to each other, “like one big party.” She met someone, fell in love, shared loving letters and wanted to meet in person. However, when she finally tracked the person the truth busted open and another person emerged.

“I can tell you that I was susceptible in those days, very depressed and lonely,” she said. “To a susceptible person, to a vulnerable person, an online relationship can seem as real as possible. It feels real.”

Her story is one of many who have been duped by online pepertrators posing as someone else. In 2005, the Chicago Tribune reported that a local woman had duped another woman she met online into believing she was a man who volunteered as a firefighter in Colorado. The incident led to a complicated lawsuit and the victim’s claims were dismissed because the accused “was creating fiction and therefore wasn’t liable.”

In 2007, Megan Meier from Dardenne Prairie, Missouri met a boy on MySpace and developed an online relationship with him. When the boy abruptly ended it, the 13-year-old committed suicide. It was later uncovered that the boy, who Meier had never met in person, did not exist but was actually created by a neighborhood family.

It has yet to be established whether Te’o was the victim of the hoax or the perpetrator himself. The media is both skeptical and confused by the news, and continues to debate about Te’o’s character and role in the hoax.

“If he was lying, it was a performance for the ages,” Gene Wojciechowski, a reporter for ESPN who interviewed Te’o for “College GameDay” in October. “And if he wasn't, then clearly he believed, with all his heart, that both his beloved grandmother and Lennay had died within six hours of one another.”

Timothy Burke, who co-wrote the report, appeared on the “Today Show” and told Matt Lauer, “I want to believe he’s a smart guy. It would take a clueless guy to fall for this for that long. That’s where my skepticism lies.” is publishing another piece on Thursday that includes what Burke called “glaring discrepancies and contradictions that should have been an immediate red flag to anyone who follows college football.” For example, he said, there seems to be at least five different dates associated with Kekua’s death in various media outlets.

“There was no Lennay Kekua,” Deadspin reported. “Lenny Kekua did not meet Manti Te’o after the Stanford game in 2009. Lennay Kekua did not attend Stanford. Lennay Kekua never visited Manti Te’o in Hawaii…”

An extensive list of “no’s” will undoubtedly continue to sink in during the next few days as more information about Te’o’s online relationship comes to light.