Warsaw, N.Y. - In college football circles they’re asking “Is it a hoax?”
Notre Dame star Manti Te’o says he is the victim of a “sick joke” that had fans believing in a girlfriend who died of leukemia. Turns out she never existed.
How could that happen?
A Wyoming County man says it can - and does - happen every day. He knows because it happened to him.
“It could happen to anybody,” says Joe Sumeriski who lives in Warsaw.
Like many, Sumeriski uses social media to update his friends and followers on how he is doing. “Me and my girlfriend broke up (in 2012) so I posted a status I was lonely,” he explains.
He was convinced his luck had changed when he received a Facebook message from Kari Ann Peniche - former Miss Teen USA. The two were introduced by a mutual acquaintance named Rose.
“My friend was there while we messaged so she had us both fooled. He thought she was real and I thought she was real,” says Sumeriski.
The MTV show “Catfish” identifies victims of fake internet romances and exposes that this happens more often than we might expect. Last summer they called Joe offering to set up a face to face meeting with the girl he frequently texted but never met.
Turns out - according to MTV - Rose really set the whole thing up pretending to be Kari Ann. During the show she admitted she’s pulled off other similar scams.
“I was mad at first,” says Joe Sumeriski. “I couldn’t understand why she would do that to me.”
Some might question if, by exposing these internet romance scams, “Catfish” actually encourages them by giving scammers their 15-minutes-of-fame.
The producers behind the show have reportedly offered to investigate the Te’o situation.
Joe Sumeriski does not know how the show became aware of his internet relationship. “They just called me out of the blue,” he says.
Since the con was exposed on MTV, Joe has heard from dozens of people who’ve also been duped, seeking advice. If it turns out the same is true for a top-ranked college player, he would not be surprised.
Just last week someone created an alternate Facebook page – stealing Joe’s name and photos. “Somebody already made a fake profile of me and it makes me wonder if someone (else) out there thinks they’re talking to me now,” he says.