'Catfished': The Story of One Woman Duped By a Fake Dating Profi - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

'Catfished': The Story of One Woman Duped By a Fake Dating Profile

Posted: Updated:

GRAND COULEE, Wash. -- When the outlandish story of Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o and his imaginary girlfriend broke in January, one word shot to the spotlight: "catfish."

"Catfish" is the name of a 2010 documentary about lonely hearts sucked into online romances, which are built on fake identities. The makers of the film developed a reality show for MTV of the same name. In Te'o's story, he fell for a girl he never met based on an elaborate social media profile. At the end of it all, Te'o was led to believe his so-called girlfriend had died. But that wasn't the worst of it. The story took an even more bizarre turn when Te'o found out his fake-dead girlfriend was actually a man.

While Te'o's story might be the most infamous example of "catfishing", he's certainly not the first.

"All of a sudden, it kind of scares you like 'What - how can this not be real?'" Tammy Starkey said.

At her home in Grande Coulee, Starkey still chokes up at the thought of falling into the same trap when all she wanted was to fall in love.

"After being divorced for five years, I just decided that, you know, I think it was time to try and find the person who might be my match," she explained.

Like so many single moms with a full-time job, Starkey felt crunched for time and limited in the local dating pool. "Around a small town, everybody knows everybody," she said.

So Starkey took a shot at finding love online. Right away, it appeared, love found her.

"I think it is an alluring thing," she said. "They tried to say sweet things - things you want to hear - and it's just 'Wow! Somebody wants to talk to me!'"

That's how she met the man who introduced himself as Justin Hatfield. He said he was an American soldier fighting for his country in Afghanistan and over the course of several months, they developed a courtship over the computer.

"You are reeled in. You're like 'wow, this is exciting. Butterflies in your stomach, sparkle in your eye, and you're like 'This is awesome.' And then you go for it."

Hatfield said that he planned to visit Starkey. However, that's when sweet-talking gave way to swindling. Hatfield claimed, in order to take leave, he needed Starkey to pay a $485 "processing fee". In a military document which Hatfield convinced Starkey was "official", he wrote the that Starkey's money would be "sent to the financial secretary through Western Union money transfer." Starkey's first instinct was to send him the money.

"I did! I was just like 'Oh my god!" Starkey explained.

Starkey didn't know at the time that that's not how the military works.

"You're so into love, you want to believe everything," she continued.

Unfortunately, it's a common romance ruse. The con artist, often based in Internet cafes in Africa, lifts a photo from social media sites and creates an entirely fake profile. These imposters aren't shy about luring in lonely hearts with pictures of military personnel, alive or dead.

Before Manti Te'o, Army Master Sgt. C.J. Grisham was the victim of online hoaxes when he'd discovered his picture was repeatedly and unwittingly plastered on dozens of dating profiles. Grisham, who's also a military blogger, now tracks these elusive imposters. Some reports say as many as one out of 10 profiles are romance scammers.

Back in Grand Coulee, Starkey never ended up sending any money. She said a friend realized what was happening and broke the news to her: the man she fell for was just a figment of someone else's imagination.

Starkey said, "I felt so heartbroken. My barriers went up. I felt like I couldn't trust again. It was just awful."

It wasn't until after a second stab at online dating, when another man pulled at her heart-strings for a hand out, that Starkey set out to find her online imposters. She checked Google and cross-referenced pictures and names. She never found the men who scammed her and likely never will.

she never did. and likely, never will.

"After this experience, it's not. It's not fun for me anymore," she said.

The man she fell for wasn't real but the pain was, and it was the hit to her heart that hurt the most.

Starkey has since given up on online dating. She now only dates in person and KHQ is pleased to report that she has since met someone. However, she shared her story as a cautionary tale so others who consider online dating will be extra vigilant about the people who they communicate with.

TIPS TO AVOID BEING THE VICTIM OF AN ONLINE SCAM:

* Military pictures should turn on your scam radar warning. Some of the biggest scams occur from supposed soldiers in the armed services with a believable sob story and a desperate need to settle down.

* Try and keep the conversation going on the dating site messaging system rather than being dragged off to Skype or MSN, at least initially.

* Use some basic conversational tests: If the person claims to be local, engage in a local-knowledge conversation (e.g. the weather, some nearby event, sports team, TV, or festival) and watch for mistakes. If the person is not claiming to be local, consider why he or she would want a long-distance relationship. Is there good reason, such as some particularly unusual common ground? If not, why aren't they restricting themselves to people a bit nearer to their current location?

* Look out for words like "dear" and old-fashioned romantic language, as well as badly formed sentences.

* Never, ever send money to anyone on a dating site, and especially avoid wiring cash.

* Always be on the lookout for get-rich-quick schemes. If it sounds too good to be true, then it's probably a scam.

RESOURCES TO BACKGROUND POSSIBLE SUITORS' STORIES:

*Internet Crimes Complaint Center .... http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

*To protect consumers, volunteers at www.romancescams.org/ post details of counterfeit dating profiles they've encountered: http://www.romancescams.org/

*Grisham's personal blog to track stolen soldiers' photos ... Http//asp.militarygear.com/2010/07/28/the-wall-of-shame/

*Google + face recognition feature called Find My Face can help reveal the real identity of someone in a photo posted online ...http://support.google.com/plus/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2370300

*Zillow can cross-reference addresses of a potential online suitor ... http://www.zillow.com/

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • INCREDIBLE drone video shows fire destruction over Pateros/Brewster

    INCREDIBLE drone video shows fire destruction over Pateros/Brewster

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 9:51 AM EDT2014-07-22 13:51:52 GMT
    KHQ.COM - Chelan HD Productions has given us permission to show this incredible video they shot with a drone surveying the damage done from the Carlton Complex Fire in the areas of Brewster and Pateros. This video is truly jaw dropping and really shows the level of destruction from the fire.>>
    KHQ.COM - Chelan HD Productions has given us permission to show this incredible video they shot with a drone surveying the damage done from the Carlton Complex Fire in the areas of Brewster and Pateros. This video is truly jaw dropping and really shows the level of destruction from the fire.>>
  • 10 Cheapest Houses For Sale In Spokane

    10 Cheapest Houses For Sale In Spokane

    Wednesday, November 27 2013 2:35 AM EST2013-11-27 07:35:08 GMT
    Whether you are in the market for an affordable place to live or are in the business of flipping houses, here are the 10 cheapest homes for sale in Spokane according to AllSpokaneHomes.com.>>
    SPOKANE, Wash. - Whether you are in the market for an affordable place to live or are in the business of flipping houses, here are the 10 cheapest homes for sale in Spokane according to AllSpokaneHomes.com. Yes, they all need some work and some need a lot more than others, but when your mortgage payment is around the $200/month range there's at least something to stay positive about.>>
  • Dozens of buildings burned in Washington wildfire

    Dozens of buildings burned in Washington wildfire

    Friday, July 18 2014 6:08 PM EDT2014-07-18 22:08:11 GMT
    KHQ.COM - The wind-driven fire in north central Washington destroyed as many as 100 buildings - most of them homes - according to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers. Rogers gave that update Friday morning in his update on the status of the Carlton Complex Fire burning around the communities of Pateros, Twisp and Brewster.>>
    KHQ.COM - The wind-driven fire in north central Washington destroyed as many as 100 buildings - most of them homes - according to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers. Rogers gave that update Friday morning in his update on the status of the Carlton Complex Fire burning around the communities of Pateros, Twisp and Brewster.>>
  • Top Stories from KHQTop StoriesMore>>

  • Carlton Complex Fire now 250,136 acres; 2,500+ firefighters on scene

    Carlton Complex Fire now 250,136 acres; 2,500+ firefighters on scene

    Wednesday, July 23 2014 2:47 AM EDT2014-07-23 06:47:59 GMT
    UPDATE: The Carlton Complex is now the largest wild land fire ever to burn in the State of Washington. The perimeter of this fire is more than 100 miles long. The total acreage burned is 250,136 acres. >>
    UPDATE: The Carlton Complex is now the largest wild land fire ever to burn in the State of Washington. The perimeter of this fire is more than 100 miles long. The total acreage burned is 250,136 acres. A total of 2500+ firefighters and support personnel are assigned to the incident. The fire is 16% contained.>>
  • Watermelon Hill fire 80% contained

    Watermelon Hill fire 80% contained

    Wednesday, July 23 2014 2:46 AM EDT2014-07-23 06:46:48 GMT
    UPDATE: The Watermelon Hill fire remains 80% contained. Fish Trap resort evacuations have been lowered to advisory level according to the WA Department of Natural Resources. The fire has been reduced to 10,518 acres. This fire is burning 7 miles SW of Cheney, WA and started on July 19th. >>
    UPDATE: The Watermelon Hill fire remains 80% contained. Fish Trap resort evacuations have been lowered to advisory level according to the WA Department of Natural Resources. The fire has been reduced to 10,518 acres. This fire is burning 7 miles SW of Cheney, WA and started on July 19th. 
    >>
  • Thank you to all who gave to victims of Carlton Complex Fire!

    Thank you to all who gave to victims of Carlton Complex Fire!

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 5:26 PM EDT2014-07-22 21:26:11 GMT
    KHQ.COM - We were completely overwhelmed at how this community came together yesterday for the Q6 Cares, Inland NW Shares drive yesterday to support the victims of the Carlton Complex Fire who lost their homes. All day Monday from 5am - 6:30pm we were inundated by a constant flow of people wanting to make a difference.>>
    KHQ.COM - We were completely overwhelmed at how this community came together yesterday for the Q6 Cares, Inland NW Shares drive yesterday to support the victims of the Carlton Complex Fire who lost their homes. All day Monday from 5am - 6:30pm we were inundated by a constant flow of people wanting to make a difference.
    >>