By Tim Jimenez

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s one of the big stories in the sports world right now: a star college football player’s tale of dealing with the loss of his girlfriend to leukemia, followed by the revelation that she never really existed (see related story).

It may have been a type of Internet hoax called “catfishing.”  That’s a scam in which an online persona is created to reel in someone else.

In this high-profile case, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o falls in love with a 22-year-old woman he never met.  She dies — or he thinks she did — and months later he learns she was never real.

“It’s happening on a regular basis,” notes Drexel University cybersecurity expert Dr. Rob D’Ovidio.  “His celebrity has brought it to the forefront.”

There are still too many blanks to fill in in the Te’o case, but D’Ovidio points out that more people are going online for relationships, where safety is critical.  He advises that Internet tools can help users root out potential frauds.

“We have Skype, we have Facetime, we have other video calling capabilities,” he tells KYW Newsradio, “so you’ll know at least if the picture on their profile is going to match their face.”

He says do your homework and use the Internet to your advantage so people can’t use it to take advantage of you.

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