Love is blind: How to spot an online phony

NEED TO KNOW
  • Who are you really talking to? It's getting easier to find out
  • Like just about everything in the world, Google has answer for this too
  • Football star Manti Te'o says he was victim of a Internet hoax
Manti Te'o says his girlfriend never existed.

Well, I think if there's one thing we've all learned from this Manti Te'o fiasco, it's that his lackluster play in the BCS title game suddenly makes a lot more sense.

But if there are two things we've learned from all this, it's that you need to carry some healthy skepticism about anybody you get to know online. It was true back when strangers were setting up blind dates over AOL in 1996, and it's true when strangers Snapchat, Tweet, meet on dating sites and fall in digital love in 2013.

And if the notes of caution remain the same, our ability to actually do something about it has improved.

One of the best ways to get proactive in your online sleuthing is to double-check the legitimacy of photos associated with the object of your online affection -- or really of anyone you've gotten to know only from online interactions.

Deadspin was able to kick one of the legs out from under the table supporting the "Lennay Kekua" hoax when it found out the woman in her Twitter profile photo was somebody else. The MTV series "Catfish" uses similar photo debunking to dig into whether someone's fishy online romance is actually legit.

Lucky for you, skeptical Internet Romeo, you don't need a tremendous amount of resources to help you out. You just need Google. (Of course, naturally, because Google can do ANYTHING. EVER.)

Head to Google Images, and be sure to bring a photo of your significant (and hopefully real) other. Simply drag and drop the photo into the search bar and up pops a complete list of all the places that Google can find that same image showing up online.

If you get a bunch of returns with the right name or other familiar-sounding demographic information alongside your photo, you're one step closer to being in the clear.

If you find that same image associated with a bunch of names you've never heard before -- sorry, you're dating a Nigerian Prince, George Glass, Lennay Kekua, Sidd Finch, Harvey the Rabbit, Jessica Rabbit, Krampus, Lonelygirl15 or Internet Discretion.

The Google picture search can definitely help spot a phony, but proving a negative can still be elusive. So the guys behind "Catfish" offered these suggestions last year to CNN.com for anyone thinking about making a connection IRL with someone they only know from a URL:

1. Ask to Skype or video chat before meeting

"If the person is hesitant or reluctant, reconsider meeting," [Max] Joseph says.

2. Don't be scared to stalk

"Spend a good two hours looking the person up on Facebook, Google, Myspace and Instagram. It's not spying, it's virtual contraception." Joseph says you may want to reconsider if:

-- They have fewer than 100 friends on Facebook,

-- They are a model-slash-something else incredible (e.g. model/doctor)

-- None of their photos are tagged

You can read the rest of their lessons learned right here. Or just burn the phrase "virtual contraception" in your brain -- it should pretty safely guide your actions from here on out.

Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter for more tech stuff @JonFromHLN

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