One of college football’s best players, Manti Te’o, made headlines recently for being scammed in an online relationship. It is known as catfishing someone — posing not only as someone different on social media, but for going so far as to create elaborate relationships with unsuspecting people.Te’o’s reputation is now damaged and ABC 17 News found a Columbia woman who was also catfished and lost thousands of dollars. A man vying for her heart on a dating website turned out to be a scammer.While it’s not hard to create a fake persona online, it is difficult to punish those who do. ABC 17’s Meredith Hoenes found out why.”Mandy,” a woman from Columbia, joined the dating site Match.com in 2008 following her divorce. Within two weeks, a man named Chris claimed to be enamored by her.”The picture on his profile and the story he gave was that he was an American soldier out of Oklahoma, that he was serving in Iraq,” Mandy said.She and Chris started emailing and eventually texting, but they never spoke on the phone.”He told me he was a high-ranking official and constantly under surveillance and would get in trouble,” she admitted. “I believed it.”For nearly five months, Chris sent her photos almost daily of his time in Iraq. He told her about his two kids back home and how their mother died of cancer. However, Mandy says he slipped when she asked what kind of cancer his wife had. The first time she asked, he told her one thing, only to change the story in a later conversation.”But by this point, I was falling in love with this person and believing everything that he told me,” she said.Chris started talking marriage and wanted his kids to come live with Mandy, but they currently lived in Uganda with a friend.”The first talk about money came up, figuring out how he could get his kids over here,” she said. Therefore, Mandy sent $1,500, but she said Chris didn’t have access to his money at that point, which later she realized should have been another red flag. In all, she sent $8,000 for papers, passports and promises that her money would be returned when the kids got to her.”It all seemed legitimate, until I spoke with him on the phone,” she said. “I could tell by his accent that he didn’t appear to be American. When I asked him, he claimed he picked up Iraqi dialect.”This time, it was a red flag she could not ignore. She and a friend started searching for the man Chris claimed to be. Surprisingly, they found the real Chris.”I contacted the actual person on MySpace with that name and he was a soldier that served in Iraq, but he was living in Oklahoma now and knew nothing about me,” Mandy said. “That’s when I knew it was all false… I was devastated.”Mandy says looking back, she ignored obvious signs. The scammer wanted her to use Western Union, claims he didn’t have access to his money, not talking on the phone, and the early use of the word, ‘I love you.'”Detective Andy Anderson, who is a part of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department’s Cyber Task Froce, says cyber crimes are on the rise. He says scammers spend hours a day trolling websites like Facebook and Match.com looking for victims and pose as someone who looks innocent.
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