"Catfishing" decoded; possible repercussions

Irish Athletic Director, Jack Swarbrick, brought a term to light at Wednesday night's press conference that many weren't familiar with.

"Catfishing," which some believe Irish linebacker, Manti Teo, fell victim to, refers to people using fake identities, pictures and profiles online, to start a relationship.

The term stems from a documentary and now-MTV television series, depicting folks using the Internet for "fake" relationships.

"This is a new medium. If you're not used to that it just doesn't really make sense how it works. But for people who are really comfortable with online media, these connections are as real as you and I talking here," said Brooke Hardy, a certified mental health counselor at Feathergill and Associates in South Bend.

But, are there legal repercussions for using a fake identity online? A lawyer in South Bend says, in this case, if Manti Teo is, in fact, a victim, yes.

"There is a claim or an action that could be made for intentional inflection of emotional distress, which is kind of a subspecies of fraud. It has many of the same elements, but it's the emotional impact that the intentional actions cause on a person. And in this case, with Manti, that seems to be significant," said Dan Pfeifer, of Pfeifer, Morgran and Stesiak.

Pfeifer says there are three civil claims that Teo could bring up. In addition to the intentional inflection of emotional distress, there's also two issues of Fraud.

In any scenario, Pfeifer says it's unlikely to become a money issue.

"I don't think someone who would be initiating a civil lawsuit would be doing so for purposes of collecting the money. I think they would be doing so because of the fact [of] principal. And if a person has been wronged, as it seems or as it may well be, then they do it because they need to clear their name," said Pfeifer.

He continues, "all of this is academic though, because people who do this "catfishing" stuff, I've come to learn in the last 12 hours, it's more of a game to them. And so, you're not going to have any insurance coverage, my guess is the people who do stuff like that don't have any assets."

Pfeifer says if Manti is at fault, though, there are still likely no claims that could be brought against him.

"You have to have someone who was injured. And the question [becomes] who would that person be? The questions that I've bascially answered are from Manti's perspective because if in fact, this was the hoax and he was the victim, than these are some resources that are available to him if he chooses to exercise them. If he was involved in it, then he obvioulsy could not pursue him, if he's an active participant in it, and I don't know who the person would be that would have standing in the claim for the damges," said Pfeifer.

"If it turns out he is a part of this, then I think there is going to be a lot of disappointed people, myself included," said Pfeifer.


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