By John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud The bizarre tale of Manti Te’o’s relationship with a fictitious person going by the name of “Lennay Kekua,” has captivated more than just the sports world over the past 24 hours. While many of the details of the episode remain unclear, Te’o’s story bears many of the hallmarks of the romance/friendship scam complaints that NCL’s Fraud Center receives on a regular basis. This type of fraud is especially attractive to scammers for one simple reason: it pays. In 2011, victims of these scams reported losing an average of $5,500, making romance/friendship scams the single most costly type of scam reported to NCL. These types of scams were the 7th most-reported scam to NCL in 2011. Manti Te’o’s story bears many of the hallmarks of romance/friendship scams reported to NCL, including:
- The relationship is exclusively virtual – It has been reported that Te’o never met “Lennay Kekua” in person. Most of their interactions were apparently over the Internet or via telephone calls. Numerous in-person meetings were reportedly arranged, but “Kekua” never arrived.
- Use of others’ photos to gain trust – Reportedly, the perpetrator of the scam against Te’o used photos pulled from another person’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. This is a common tactic used by romance/friendship scammers to make their online persona more believable and thereby gain the victim’s trust.
- “Tragic” event – “Kekua” told Te’o that she had been in serious car accident and then discovered that she had contracted leukemia. In the complaints that NCL receives about romance/friendship scams, it is not unusual that a supposedly “tragic” event is reported as an excuse to ask for money from the victim (often for fictitious “hospital bills”).