The short and tragic life of Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o's girlfriend Lennay Kekua, who was nearly killed in a car accident in California before dying of leukemia, was missing one important detail when it made headlines in September — Kekua didn't exist. After Deadspin broke the news that Kekua was fake, the school and Te'o said he had been the victim of a hoax sometimes known as "catfishing." In this type of hoax, a "catfish" creates a fake identity and uses that identity to interact with others. A new report from ESPN Thursday said that a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo called a friend in December to admit to duping Te'o, and that Tuiasosopo has pulled the hoax before. Here's a look at other recent social media hoaxes.
In 2001, Kaycee Nicole Swenson died suddenly from an aneurysm. Swenson was a teenage girl battling cancer, who made friends across the Internet as she chronicled her experiences on her blog.
Skepticism surrounding Swenson's death grew after Debbie Swenson — reportedly Kaycee's mother — told well-wishers there was no address for sending cards and flowers, and that a cremation and memorial service had taken place two days after the death, The New York Times reported.
Internet users dug into the story claims, locating the student whose photos had been used and finding that Kaycee had logged into a CollegeClub.com account after her death. The 40-year-old homemaker Debbie Swenson eventually confessed to having created the individual and her story, saying that Kaycee was a composite of three people she knew who had died of cancer.
In 2000, a 19-year-old girl named Sheyla Morrison was fired from acting as a volunteer "guide" in the online game Everquest. The day after she lost her guide position, she committed suicide.
The information regarding Sheyla's purported suicide was posted online, and other users expressed shock, sorrow and disbelief, a Salon story reported. However, Everquest community members began to investigate after information she had posted before her suicide conflicted with earlier information she had given to an online friend.
A Gamers.com article cited by Salon found that Sheyla and her family — a sister, husband and foster mother — were created by an Oklahoma City couple. The wife played as the sister Jolena, and the husband played as Sheyla. The Gamers.com story said the husband planned to claim his wife staged the suicide, and wanted to use the situation to prove she was unstable, therefore giving him custody of their child.
Some scams are perpetrated by lonely people looking for attention, but in the case of Austin Miller, a supposed soldier serving in Kabul, Afghanistan, the hoax was all about money.
When Joan Romano met Austin Miller on Match.com, the relationship began to grow, and Romano found herself falling in love with Miller, ABC News reported in 2011. When Miller asked for a laptop, Romano sent him one. Her ongoing generosity led her to send him a total of $25,000 before she admitted she was being scammed.
The soldier in a picture sent to Romano was identified as Jeffrey Miller, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army whose identity had been stolen off MySpace. An ABC undercover producer found the scammer living in Ghana.
The tale of Kevin San Roman's fight with leukemia was chronicled on Facebook and a family blog. When Kevin died, his younger brother Lucas and other family members used the blog to share their grief.
A Miami Herald breadown of the hoax reported that a probe was launched after a suspicious teacher alerted police. The teacher's daughter, Kaitlin, had fallen for Lucas through online interaction, text messages and talking on the phone.
Police found that the perpetrator of the hoax was Cindy Choi, a Chinese restaurant owner. The photos of Kevin were actually those of a fitness trainer living in New York, while the images of two cancer-stricken "cousins" were taken from a child Choi babysat and the family blog of a child who died of cancer in 2004.
Nev Schulman, the subject of the 2010 documentary "Catfish," spoke to ABC News about his experience falling for a 20-something girl named Megan. He fell in love with her partly because it was something new, different and mysterious, Schulman said.
When Schulman went to confront Megan, he discovered that she was actually a middle-aged mom named Angela Wesselman-Pierce, who later said she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The Daily Beast reported that the photo Wesselman-Pierce used in creating her Megan identity was actually that of mom and model-photographer Aimee Gonzales. In the 2010 article, Gonzales said she had been dealing with copycats stealing her image since the story was featured in the documentary.
"In a way," Gonzalez told The Daily Beast, "it's almost worse than stealing someone's name. She actually stole my face. There's nothing more than your face that makes you who you are."
For a week in 2011, Amina Arraf blogged about the Syrian government's crackdown on Arab Spring protesters before she was reportedly hauled away by government security agents, sparking a U.S. State Department investigation.
According to a Washington Post article, skeptics began investigating the blog's claims and owner, only to find the pictures of Arraf were taken from a London woman's Facebook profile.
Rather than being a half Syrian, half American lesbian, Arraf turned out to be the brainchild of 40-year-old Tom MacMaster of Georgia. MacMaster is a Middle East peace activist. He apologized on the blog, writing that despite his deception, the "facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground."
"I do not believe that I have harmed anyone — I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about," he wrote.
MacMaster used Amina's online identity for at least five years, The Washington Post reported.
A 2009 Slate piece told the story of 16-year-old soccer player Masal Bugduv, who was described in The Times of London as one of "Football's Top 50 Rising Stars," and "Moldova's finest."
Sports blogger Neil McDonnell became suspicious after seeing a hint from a Russian blog commenter, Slate reported, and went on to discover that Bugduv didn't exist. His identity was developed after a series of fake AP stories about him were posted on forum and blog comment section.
"The blog comments fooled the blogs, the blogs fooled the news sites, and the news sites fooled the magazines," the Slate article said.
The name "Masal Bugduv" is a phonetic twin for the Irish phrase, "My little black donkey," which is also an Irish short story about a man who overpaid for a donkey based on nothing more than village hype, ESPN reported.
Jesse James was a volunteer fireman, cowboy and poet who lived on a ranch with llamas while dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder from being in New York on 9/11.
Everything about James looked too good to be true, and after he won the heart of a friend of screenwriter Josh Olson, Olson and his friends discovered that the story was, indeed, a work of fiction.
In a 2007 L.A. Weekly article, Olson related the story, saying that his friend fell in love with James while exchanging pictures, emails and phone calls with him. Olson's friend left her husband with the intention of moving to Colorado to live with James, but James had a breakdown and shot himself in the stomach before dying of liver cancer.
After James's death, Olson's friend traveled to Colorado and befriended Janna, who said she was James's friend. Rather than being James's friend, Janna was actually behind the hoax, and after being confronted by Olson and a number of his friends, Janna agreed to never contact Olson's friend again.
Editor's note: The L.A. Weekly article contains strong language.
In a story filled with tragedy and miracles, Dana Dirr, a pregnant trauma surgeon and mother of a cancer-stricken 5-year-old boy named Eli, was hit head-on by a semi and clung to life just long enough to give birth to the Dirr's eleventh child.
Due to the scope of the tragedy surrounding Dana's death, readers started digging into the claims only to discover that the entire family was nothing more than a hoax, Gawker reported. Pictures of the Dirr children were stolen from blogs and Flickr accounts from people living in South Africa, New York and Germany.
In addition to creating an imaginary family, 22-year-old Emily Dirr — the real Dirr behind the fiction — also told the story of Eli Dirr, who was diagnosed with cancer. His "parents" created the Warrior Eli Facebook page and set up pages on CaringBridge and the Alex's Lemonade Stand charity. The Dirrs also sent out hundreds of Warrior Eli wristbands and drawings from "Eli."
After the hoax was uncovered, the Dirrs began vanishing from the Internet. Pages were deactivated, Facebook accounts were locked and profiles on sites like Photobucket and Myspace were scrubbed clean. At least 70 profiles tied to the Dirrs also disappeared, the warriorelihoax blog reported.
Emily Dirr posted an apology saying, "This all started 11 years ago when I was a bored 11-year-old kid looking for an escape from the pain and heartache I saw in my own family. It started almost as a fiction writing, but the more time I spent escaping to it, the more 'real' it became. I am so sorry it hurt so many real families, and so many people out there."
Any look at fake online profiles soon leads to "limeybean," which was the online moniker of an 18-year-old girl living in London, who had lost a father and twin brother to a strand of untreatable tuberculosis, wired.co.uk reported in 2009.
According to the Wired report, limeybean announced she too had been diagnosed with that rare strand of TB, and her online activities chronicled her struggles. Throughout this time, limeybean gathered a large following of readers, who mourned her after she reportedly died from her illness.
The Wired report said the limeybean hoax came to light after another person began digging into her claims and publishing the information. Eventually limeybean returned to the Internet to post that she "never intended for things to go this way."
"I've always had a problem when it comes to telling the truth on the Internet, to be honest," she wrote.
She also said she wanted to use her fake illness to try to get "some of the idiot emo kids" to buck up and realize that their lives weren't all that bad.
"The lie was worth something, wasn't it?" she asked. "How bad is a lie if it helps?"