Psychotherapist shares 'catfishing' prevention tips

January 25, 2013 4:25:05 AM PST
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o recently opened up to ABC's Katie Couric about being duped by an online love. It came as a shock to many people, but a local psychotherapist says it may not be as rare as you think.

Taking a run around Memorial Park on a beautiful day is becoming an old-fashioned way to make friends. Now more people are being brought together via online friendships that begin in chat rooms or on Facebook or Twitter.

"I think it can be highly addictive and you don't have authentic relationships that I think people crave," Memorial Park jogger Jenny Summer said.

The story of Te'o's girlfriend, whom he called the love of his life, but had never met, has revealed a somewhat underground dating culture.

"People tend to not research when they have high hopes," Memorial Park jogger Titus Freddie said.

Catfishing, the cruel joke of pretending to be someone online in order to hook someone into a fake relationship, has spawned TV series and documentaries. While in some states it is illegal to fake an identity online, it isn't illegal to catfish --pretending to be someone who doesn't exist.

"To me it's very sad that there really are people out there that take advantage of folks who are pretty lonely or naïve," psychotherapist Cheryl Simmons said.

Simmons counsels people about how to draw boundaries in online relationships. She says beware if:

  • Your online friendship begins over a common purpose -- like a hobby -- but then segues into more personal conversations
  • You notice discrepancies in statements your online friend makes
  • And most importantly, if your online friend doesn't seem interested in meeting you face to face.

Simmons says healthy intimate personal relationships should include physically being together.

"But I think when those internal alarms go off we need to listen to them," Simmons said.

If you suspect someone you know is being fooled online, express your concern for their well being. Also, encourage them to ask their online friend more challenging questions and help them explore why they are okay having a personal relationship without face-to-face interaction.

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