SANANTONIO -- Thousands of people find love online every day, but just as many fall victim to online dating scams.
Recently, Manti Te'o put the catfish scam back in the spotlight after it was revealed that the Notre Dame football star was in a lengthy relationship with a girlfriend who never actually existed.
The catfish scam, also known as the sweetheart scam, involves a person who creates a false online identity to hook somebody into a relationship. They usually try to break the victim's bank account, along with their heart.
while the term catfishing may seem new, according to the Better Business Bureau, it was one of the most prevalent scams of 2011.
Two of the San Antonio victims interviewed for this report said despite being very cautious, they were still fooled. They both warned that this type of scam can happen to anyone.
Laura was too embarrassed to reveal her true identity but decided to speak out in hopes of warning others about these kinds of scams.
She admitted she was victimized, but heartbreak was the least of her problems.
He sent me roses, Laura said, He sent me a women's Bible. That touched my heart because that's who I'm about, what I'm about, and I felt like he understood who I was.
His name was Nick. He seemed like the perfect catch. And for Laura, he was the perfect match on a Christian dating website. After all, with little dating experience, Laura thought a Christian site would be the right place to start.
His picture was of a distinguished gentleman, Laura said. He had pictures of a beautiful 12-year-old girl with pigtails.
Nick's profile showed he was a widower who lives in Dallas with a young daughter.
Automatically I saw widower. It made me feel bad for him, especially taking care of a 12-year-old child, Laura said.
Laura could relate because she, too, was a single mother. She was raising an autistic child alone after ending a 20-year marriage.
When I had a bad day I would share that bad day with him. He would come back with scriptures, Laura said.
During their online conversations, Nick would ask Laura common questions like What are you eating tonight? and What kind of car do you drive?
He knows the kind of car I drive. He knows so much about me, Laura said. All this time, I had no idea I was giving him this information.
Laura was always cautious, but after investing so much time in their online relationship, she began to trust him.
Six months later, Nick asked for Laura's home address so he could send her a gift. Not long after, Laura received a Bible and roses.
Laura said they began talking on the phone. And just a couple of months later, Nick showed a very different side to him -- a side full of deception and lies.
He called me one night. He said, 'We're here in Africa, I had to give up my watch, I have no money.' He wanted me to run out that minute and get him $2,500 and wanted me to send him that money immediately, Laura said.
Suddenly, Laura realized something wasn't right. She told Nick that she wasn't sending him money. But what came next, she had never expected from her once sweet and charming gentleman.
He said my son wouldn't wake up the next day. He said my son wouldn't live to see tomorrow, Laura said.
One of San Antonio's public figures went through a similar experience. He wasn't threatened but he was deceived. He, too, invested many months in this relationship.
The second victim we talked to wished to remain anonymous. He will go by the name Mike for the purpose of this report.
She was a very attractive woman. I think I was somewhat cautious because it seemed a little too good, too easy, Mike said.
Her name was Karina. Mike said she was a beautiful Russian woman who claimed she was modeling. They exchanged emails for a few months before finally meeting in person.
But Mike was still cautious.
Five-foot-10-inch tall blond women don't just fall out of the sky, Mike said. I began to be very suspicious.
Mike said she wasn't shy about asking for things, either.
It wasn't just a simple lunch somewhere. It was going to a 5-star restaurant, he said about her demands.
Mike admitted to buying her jewelry but noticed Karina was always vague about her life and would never tell him where she lived.
Mike began getting suspicious. About nine months into their relationship, he confronted her.
She disappeared within a days period. The couple of numbers I had for her were gone, he said. The one place that I was told she worked, suddenly, she wasn't there anymore.
The woman he was falling for had seemingly vanished without a trace.
Mike and Laura's stories are all too familiar to Erin Rodgriguez, of the Better Business Bureau.
A couple red flags: If they're online communicating via email and refuse to meet in person; if they're claiming to be overseas and can't meet you; if they claim a family emergency, she said.
According to police, it's only illegal to create a false online identity if threats are involved or there's intent of harm or defraud.
The BBB recommends:
- Never wire money to anyone
- Limit the amount of information divulged
- Research the person on the other end
- Set stringent privacy settings
To this day, Mike still doesn't know Karina's true identity.
I found out the name she gave me later on was more than likely an alias, he said.
Mike said he was left feeling used and stupid. As for Laura, she lived in fear for months even after she reported the incident to police.
He knows so much about me, Laura said.
Unfortunately, no one could help her because she knew nothing about Nick. And that's because Nick, at least the Nick that Laura thought she knew, never really existed.