'Catfishing' is Real, Creates Real Victims, Say Experts

Warning signs so you can protect yourself

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By Monique Williams

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) -- It is the one love story you either believe or you don't. boy meets girl, girl dies, boy finds out girl never existed. Nevertheless, the South Carolina Consumer Affairs Department says catfishing is real and creates real victims. Here's what they say about you not becoming one.

"The best thing to do is try to avoid it," says SC Department of Consumer Affairs spokesperson, Juliana Harris.

Like any fish you catch that doesn't seem right, Harris says throw it back before it bites you.

"You can get swept away in matters of the heart but take a step back, think about it."

She warns that the 'catfishing' internet scam, where someone pretends to be someone they're not and develops a relationship with an unsuspecting victim, can be avoided. Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o claims it happened to him. Turns out, his online girlfriend, who supposedly died of Leukemia, never existed. He was reportedly devastated.

Juliana Harris says watch out for 'the hook':

The hook is playing on your sympathy. A lot to people want drama in their life and it they don't have any, they will fabricate it."

The second thing to look out for is 'the catch':

"If you're talking and things are great then they start asking for the money or personal info, check it out."

She also admonishes if you're going to date online, do so where you live. That way, it's easier to actually meet and talk with the person face-to-face. If not, she says, you may realize, too late, that although there are plenty fish in the sea, there are sharks as well.

Harris says her office gets about 100 scam calls per month. She believes there are more catfish scams than reported because people are too embarrassed to call. For for more information on how to protect yourself, go to www.scconsumer.gov or call 800-922-1594.

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