How could it possibly happen?
Notre Dame football star, and Heisman Trophy runner-up, Manti Te’o says he was tricked into believing an online romance was real. An acquaintance was pretending to be the woman he poured his heart out to on the phone and online. He’ll talk about the deception in an interview Thursday with Katie Couric.
While there are those who doubt Te’o was an innocent victim of an elaborate hoax, others know this kind of thing happens all the time.
“I’m talking about my embarrassing situation, hoping I can alert other guys who could be victims,” says Mark. “I was duped.”
I’ve changed the name in this story to protect a local man who has already been through enough humiliation. I’m calling him Mark.
The 39-year-old had a good job at the University of Washington, but he was lonely. Like millions of people, he tried to find love online through a dating website.
“I was just looking for companionship and, you know,” he says.
Mark hit it off with a woman from the Seattle area last fall.
“I felt like I was in love with her,” he says. “She said all the right things online.”
All the right things and some almost unbelievable things. She told him she had a lot of money from her parents who passed away.
She had many hardships in her life including suffering the loss of a baby who died just days after it was born due to a heart defect.
“She told me she was a cancer survivor and she also had a liver transplant and all this stuff,” he says.
Mark became more sympathetic toward her when he learned her ex-husband had broken into her house, trashed the place, and was threatening her.
“Basically the story was, she had a hard time going back to that house because she feared for her life. She thought her ex would kill her, so she was staying with some friends,” says Mark.
“We were getting more serious and I said, ‘You need to be safe. If this guy is that crazy come live with me and we’ll go from there.'”
Next came word that she was pregnant – with twins – followed by news that she had bladder cancer.
“I believed her,” he says, shaking his head.
Mark was never able to go with her to any of her doctors’ appointments. She always had reasons why she needed to go alone, or she became too upset and sick to go at all.
He quit his job, like she asked him to do, so he could take care of her. After all, money was not an issue.
At this point, most everyone reading this story is wondering, “Why did you fall for all of this?”
“I don’t know why. I think at certain points I felt trapped,” he says, trying to explain the past few months of his life.
“I didn’t want to tell my parents everything because my mom’s a worrier. I didn’t want to bother them. I had no job. I had no source of money coming in. My money was dwindling down.”
He also admits he was afraid of her.
“A little bit,” Mark says. “I didn’t think I could be manipulated like that but she had this kind of control I guess.”
He started digging into her past and discovered several aliases, at least two other husbands, and a third guy online she was telling other stories too.
He confronted her a month ago.
“She became more violent and actually told me, ‘You know I could stab you while you’re asleep.'”
That was it. He knew he had to get out. He couldn’t gather stuff up from his home because she would be suspicious. One morning he grabbed his wallet and car keys and told her he needed to get something from his vehicle.
He walked out and left everything behind.
While there are two sides to every story, details about the woman have been verified through contact with her parents – they’re not dead – and police records.
No job, no money, he left Washington this week to move back to his home state to live with family.
Lessons learned the hard way.
“When you mix what you think is true love with sympathy of others this is what you get,” he says. “I was vulnerable, meaning I was lonely and I wanted companionship. She just played all the right strings and I think next time I’ll be more guarded on my emotions.”
A background check isn’t as “unromantic” as it once seemed.
Some states consider impersonating someone online illegal. Washington, California, Texas, and New York currently have laws on the books making it a crime.
Mark doesn’t think he’ll hear from the woman he says created an identity that was nothing more than a string of lies.
Recently he got a text, purportedly from someone who found the woman’s phone after her sudden death. The man says her last wish was to let Mark know how much she loved him.
“Right,” he says.
By LINDA THOMAS