Oceanside woman says her online romance turns out to be dating hoax called 'catfishing'

Legal experts Nothing illegal about it

OCEANSIDE, Calif - An Oceanside woman was outraged to learn she was the victim of the Internet dating hoax known as "catfishing."

Alex Walters, 24, told 10News she was intrigued when she met a man who called himself Jackson Avery.  His picture on the "Plenty of Fish" dating website was attractive, and when the two began emailing each other he seemed "amazing."

The couple hit it off, and soon were texting and talking on the phone for hours. 

"We had so much in common," Walters said, adding that he always seemed to say the right things.

They planned their first date, but about an hour before they were to meet, Walters said she got a text message that Avery was sick with the flu. 

According to Walters, they rescheduled for the following week, but again, he canceled, saying he had to fly to Ohio, where his niece was having emergency heart surgery.

 The couple continued talking while he was in Ohio, and the day he told her he was supposed to return to his home in Carlsbad, Walters got a call from a woman who claimed to be his sister. 

"She said that he had been T-boned by a drunk driver, and was in the hospital and she listed all his injuries, including a knee replacement, broken ribs, a broken finger, a ton of different things that happened to him.  So at this point, I'm freaking out saying, 'Oh my gosh! How can all this stuff happen to one person? He must have the worst luck in the world,'" she recalled.

But her friends were beginning to see red flags, telling Walters the man who was winning her heart was too good to be true.

She finally searched for listings with his phone number online and learned the awful truth.  He was a “catfish,” someone pretending to be someone they’re not on social media.

As Walters scanned various websites, she learned a person using the same picture and different variations of his name had scammed other women, who recounted their stories online.

Then she watched an episode of the "Dr. Phil Show," where three other women had fallen for the same hoax -- one of them even admitted to having phone sex with the man, who turned out to be a woman.

Her name is Julie, and she is from Cleveland, Ohio.  She was using pictures she borrowed from a real person's Facebook page, making up various stories as she dated as many as 30 women online.

“She’s a psychopath, I mean she just wants to hurt people,” said Walters, who believes there should be a law to stop the internet dating hoax.

Legal experts say there's nothing illegal about catfishing.

“It's wrong, it's not nice, it may be immoral, you know unethical, it's a lot of things, but there aren't statutes covering all conduct,” said San Diego attorney Jan Ronis, who added that people should protect themselves from being made fools of on the internet.

Walters had this advice for women who are in the online dating game, "If they don’t ask you out within two weeks, then say 'next.' Don't waste your time on somebody who's going to bail on two dates. If they bail on more than one date then they're not worth it."

Notre Dame Football star Manti Te'o brought the term "catfishing" into the popular vernacular. 

A University spokesman said Te'o and his family were victims of a hoax as well.

"On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te’o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua, apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia," said university spokesman Dennis Brown in a statement released Wednesday, about an hour after a story on Deadspin broke on the Internet.

Click Here to follow the coverage of the alleged hoax on Te'o

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