Manti Te'o, a celebrated Notre Dame football player, has garnered a lot of attention for himself lately - but not because of his athletic abilities. It's because he was duped by an online romance that turned out to be a hoax.
Online dating has progressed in the last several years from being shrouded in secrecy and embarrassment to a normal way of meeting other singles. Millions of people are signed up with one or more online dating sites, and more join every day, including athletes and celebrities like Te'o. But along with its growing popularity, online dating can sometimes be a tool for manipulation and fraud.
Which is why it's important to be aware of the red flags and pitfalls that come with virtual romance. While most online daters want to meet people and date, others use technology as a way to defraud.
While we're still trying to make sense of what happened to Te'o, and at what point it became clear to him that his "girlfriend" didn't actually exist, I have a lot of empathy for the many people who have shared his experience. It's easy to fall victim to promises of online love, even if you're a celebrity. Which is why it's important to protect yourself when you're chatting with a total stranger over the Internet.
To avoid falling into the same trap as Te'o, following are some online dating red flags to notice which can help steer you away from trouble:
Falling in love quickly. If someone is manipulating you, he usually cuts to the chase quickly by telling you before he really knows you that he's "in love." Or he showers you with compliments and promises of romance soon after you exchange emails or messages. This is to create a false sense of intimacy with you. Be weary, and don't get emotionally involved until you meet in real life.
They avoid meeting you. When you are attracted to someone online, it's best to ask her to meet in person sooner than later. If she's making a lot of excuses or cancels often, then you can assume there's a reason she's avoiding meeting you - she isn't who she says she is.
They ask for favors and sympathy. If your online love interest starts asking for favors from you - financial help or otherwise - beware. If a relationship is real, support goes both ways. If she seems to have more problems every day and repeatedly tries to garner sympathy, she's playing on your emotions.
Online dating is a great tool for meeting people, but it's good to proceed with caution when it comes to falling for a virtual boyfriend or girlfriend. Trust your instincts, and get to know the person in real life first.