5 Bizarre Online Hoaxes, Including Manti Te'o's Fake Girlfriend

PHOTO:   Notre Dame linebacker Manti Teo walks off the field.

Michael Conroy/AP Photo

In case you've been nestled deep within your Snuggie since yesterday, and haven't heard about the Manti Te'o saga, here are the basics:

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o had drawn much media attention from the likes of Sports Illustrated, ESPN's "College GameDay," the Chicago Tribune, and other outlets over the harrowing death of his girlfriend, 22-year-old Lennay Kekua, who had died of leukemia some time after having been involved in a serious car accident. Shortly after receiving news of her death, Te'o led his team to a 20-3 victory over Michigan State. It was a story of perseverance and heartbreak, love lost and strength found. You could barely hear over the roar of keyboards readying a screenplay for a possible movie adaption, somehow starring Zac Efron as Te'o.

But the whole story, we now know, was a hoax.

On Wednesday, sports site Deadspin broke the news that Lennay Kekua was a fictional person, presenting the timeline of Te'o's interactions with this person, the media's role in perpetuating the story, the young woman whose image was used as the online "face" of the trick, and the young man who appears to have created and maintained the hoax.

Shortly after the story was published, Notre Dame revealed, via Facebook, that Teo' and his parents had approached the school on Dec. 26 to inform them that he had been "the victim of what appears to be a hoax," and that the University had subsequently launched an investigation to determine the motive.

Then, Te'o himself released a statement, calling the incident "embarrassing to talk about" and referring to himself as "the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies."

Chalk it up to gullibility, hope, a trusting nature, or desperation, but these incidents may not be as uncommon as some might think. Here are four other online hoaxes that were all too successful.

1. Dave on Wheels

"Dave on Wheels" was a 24-year-old quadriplegic with cerebral palsy who used special technology to communicate online via his blog, Twitter, and Facebook. His inspirational words and optimistic outlook in the face of his physical challenges garnered Dave an online following. When he passed away from pneumonia in late 2012, even Kim Kardashian tweeted a quote from a heartwarming letter he penned before his death.

But not all the details of Rose's story added up. A blogger named Kristi-Anne grew suspicious of Rose's story and dove deeper. Through her online sleuthing, she discovered that the pictures purporting to be of Rose were of a young man named Hunter Dunn. Likewise, the woman he'd named as his sister and caretaker also turned out to be fictitious. A commenter on Kristi-Anne's blog took soon responsibility for the hoax, all while insisting that his (or her) motives had been only to inspire others and that it is "possible that more damage has been done in your reveal than in the original deception."

BetaBeat reported on the hoax, adding that Rose's story had blossomed years before he'd grown "internet famous," and concluding that the person behind the lie had "used the persona of a sick, struggling young person in order to get closer to women online."

2. Sarah Philips

Sarah Philips' ascent in the world of sports betting coverage was, like most things on the internet, fast. Philips began garnering attention as a frequent poster to forums on Covers.com, a gambling website. After taking notice of her rising popularity within the forums, Covers offered her a chance to write her own column on the site. Questions about the self-described "girly-girl" college student shot up almost immediately when the photos she'd handed in to run alongside her columns all seemed to be of totally different women. She insisted one image (which had appeared on the site "Hot Chicks with Douchebags" -- prime Catfish fodder if there were ever was one) was simply taken when she was younger.

Nonetheless, her articles were characterized by confidence and a readily apparent knowledge of betting and sports stats. It wasn't long before ESPN.com came calling with an offer to take her column to their site.

Meanwhile, Philips had reached out to a college student who had started a successful Facebook page called "NBA Memes," where he posted funny captions on sports-related photos. Philips asked him whether he wanted to be an editor on a new sports comedy site she was launching. She also extended the invitation to a man she'd struck up a correspondence with through the Covers forums. Long story short: Sarah Philips never hired them, but she did intimidate, threaten, and even extort them with the help of two men she had described as personal friends and associates in her burgeoning scam.

Deadspin wrote about the Philips controversy in May of 2012, resulting in Philips attempting to explain herself on Twitter. About a week later, the site published a story from a source who claims Philips was steering business to a bookie. Another story on Deadspin quotes a source who claims Philips was essentially working for a "puppetmaster" who has "threatened" people in the past.

ESPN, naturally, fired Philips in the wake of Deadspin's exposé.

3. Kaycee Nicole

The internet's ability to afford people a sense of immediate intimacy and attention coupled with relative anonymity has resulted in behavior known, however informally, as "Münchausen by Internet." The Kaycee Nicole story is one such example of this phenomenon. In 1998, a teen girl named Kelli Jo Swenson, along with her friends, created an online persona they named "Kaycee Nicole," complete with a photo. The girls' involvement seemed to stop there, with Kell Jo's mother, Debbie Swenson, subsequently taking over it.

In 1999, "Kaycee Swenson" began posting on a site called CollegeClub. In 2000, she revealed that she had been in remission from leukemia, but that her cancer had returned. Kaycee eventually began posting about her illness on a blog called "Living Colours" in August of 2000. The blog's readership grew as Kaycee shared her struggle, with well-wishers corresponding with the dying girl both online and over the telephone.

Kaycee Nicole eventually passed away on May 14, 2001 at the age of 19.

Soon after, inconsistencies in Kaycee's story began to unravel, and Debbie eventually revealed that she'd been playing the part of Kaycee online, adding that, nonetheless, "I know I helped a lot of people in a lot of different ways."

4. David Manning

You know how even the worst movies seem to have at least one positive review featured on their promotional material? You can thank David Manning for a handful of those.

In 2001, Newsweek's John Horn decided to do some digging into Manning's reviews -- which included glowing, effusive praise for such turkeys as Rob Schnieder's The Animal -- and discovered that the paper he claimed to work for, Connecticut-based Ridgefield Press, had never heard of him. In June 2001, Horn revealed that Manning was not a real reviewer but, rather, a hoax created by a Sony employee later identified as marketing executive Matthew Cramer, who had cooked up the reviews to promote films released by Sony subsidiary Columbia Pictures. The Connecticut attorney general's office eventually launched an investigation into the con, and Sony agreed to pay the state $326,000.

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