Whatever you think of Manti Te'o, what's happened over the past few weeks regarding this girlfriend hoax has been quite embarrassing. Being catfished is something no one wants or deserves.
For those of you who don't know, a catfish is someone who uses social media to create false identities in an attempt to pretend they're someone they're not.
And while what happened to Manti Te'o is bringing the term to light, we shouldn't talk about catfishing like it's a new thing. Ever since there's been an Internet, there's been a fat guy in an undershirt pretending to be a hot model. Social media only makes the lie more believable and more noticeable.
But now that it's happened to someone prominent, there's a renewed interest. We're focusing plenty on how the media should have been more diligent in its reporting and how Te'o shouldn't have been so quick to believe, but what we're not doing enough of is talking about how to prevent it from happening to you.
We may not all be up-and-coming football stars, but these tips can help you avoid becoming the victim of a catfish or general web hoax.
Google image search
Te'o basically was attracted to a Twitter avatar. That's OK — a little weird but OK — but only if you do your homework first. While no one is saying you have to check every image of every person, use this if there's something that doesn't feel quite right. The easiest way to use the free tool is to go to images.google.com and drag and drop an image onto the page. A good result is "no other sizes of this image found," indicating it hasn't been shared by thousands of websites. But if you see the same image used on multiple social media profiles, you may have a problem. Considering this takes all of 15 seconds, can you really afford not to do it?
Check the person's Facebook Timeline
The privacy settings may prevent you from seeing much, but focus on two areas to start: The join date and the number of friends. If someone just joined Facebook an hour ago, that's a reason for a red flag. If someone has 6 friends and joined years ago, that's also a reason to raise the flag. If the person has some open privacy settings, look at posting habits. Are there any photos of family members? Has anyone tagged this person in other activities? Does the person like other comments or businesses, or do they seem to go out of their way to avoid a conversation? Someone who is very quiet on Facebook should be given a closer look.
Check the person's LinkedIn profile
While LinkedIn isn't the hot social network where everyone congregates, it's less likely these days to find someone with absolutely no LinkedIn presence. Don't use this as your only measurement, but if the other two above are problematic and you find no LinkedIn presence, add it to the concern list.
Ask to video chat
Going back to the fat guy in the undershirt, a request to video chat would be his worst nightmare. That kind of chat existed years ago, but it wasn't the norm. Be concerned if repeated attempts are met with excuses. And don't chalk it up to technology — most computers, mobile devices and tables nowadays support this feature, whether it's Facebook chat, Skype, FaceTime or something else.
Creepy? Stalkerish? It may seem that way, but if you really want to be sure someone is telling you the truth, a simple Google search for online background checks turns up plenty of options. And because more options exist today than a few years ago, they aren't that expensive. Save this for the last thing, but remember the option is available should it make you feel more comfortable.
And finally, here's one piece of advice that never changes, no matter how much technology evolves. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
What questions do you have about social media? Tweet them to @scottkleinberg or @amyguth. We might select yours for use in a future column.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun