Manti Te'o's girlfriend was fake, but phony online romances happen all the time, to men and women from all walks of life.
The Notre Dame football player's much publicized scam relationship has prompted government agencies across the country to issue warnings that Te'o isn't the first and won't be the last person to become involved in such a scheme.
The U.S. Department of State says scammers most often meet their victims on employment or online dating sites. The photo provided usually shows an attractive person and looks like it was taken by a professional photographer in a studio.
The scammer has very bad luck, often getting into car crashes, arrested, mugged, beaten or hospitalized. He or she claims to have no living parents or siblings, but sometimes has to accompany an ill child overseas. All of this takes money, and the scammer pulls on the victim's heartstrings with sad stories and romantic language, often plagiarized from Internet sites.
Despite their alleged native born U.S. citizenship, the scammers frequently use poor grammar and spelling in email exchanges. They may claim to be trapped overseas due to the loss of their belongings and money and beseech the victim for hundreds or thousands of dollars through wire transfer. They attempt to arrange meetings, which never happen, but result in circumstances that also require money, such as robberies or other mishaps along the way.
By the time the scammer starts asking for money to supposedly to pay for travel or to help with some unfortunate predicament, he or she has been communicating with the victim for long enough to develop a trusting relationship, so the scammer may siphon significant cash from the mark before being cut off.
The FBI posted a warning last year about such scams, outlining similar scenarios to the State Department's warning. They add that scammers will usually insist on communicating outside of the dating or social networking site where the connection became established, and they tend to declare their love and devotion pretty quickly.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has issued a warning about "sweetheart scams" as well, cautioning about fake social networking or dating site profiles that con artists use to gain victims' trust and then try to exploit them financially. Cooper urges people to remember that " people aren’t always who they say they are online."