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Who's who on the Internet? Who knows

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Notre Dame Linebacker Manit Te'o falls for a 'catfish'
  • A 1993 iconic cartoon lampoons Internet identity foibles
  • In an official account, even President Obama posted a pic to positively ID himself
  • After Nigerian banking frauds came phishing, SMShing, vishing

Had an online dating experience? Tell us about it on CNN iReport.

(CNN) -- A dog tapping away at a computer keyboard turns to another dog and says, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

The cartoon by Peter Steiner, which first appeared in The New Yorker in July 1993, perfectly encapsulates the world we live in today.

How do you trust someone to be who they say they are on the Internet?

The question has bubbled up again after news broke that Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o fell for a "catfish," someone who fakes an identity online to finagle his or her way into a fraudulent romantic relationship.

Notre Dame stands behind Te'o
Notre Dame: Te'o caught in 'Catfish' scam
Notre Dame: Manti Te'o victim of hoax
The sports world and the Internet are abuzz as Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o says he was the victim of a "sick joke" that resulted in the creation of an inspirational story that had him overcoming the death of an online girlfriend at the same time he lost his grandmother. Here, Te'o leaves the field after a 42-14 loss against Alabama in the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship game on Monday, January 7, in Miami Gardens, Florida. See more photos of Te'o: The sports world and the Internet are abuzz as Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o says he was the victim of a "sick joke" that resulted in the creation of an inspirational story that had him overcoming the death of an online girlfriend at the same time he lost his grandmother. Here, Te'o leaves the field after a 42-14 loss against Alabama in the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship game on Monday, January 7, in Miami Gardens, Florida. See more photos of Te'o:
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
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Notre Dame star Manti Te\'o Notre Dame star Manti Te'o

We do our best to avoid being duped. But it's not always easy.

"This is so sad, this has happened to me a couple of times in the past when I first started dealing with internet dating," posted Ronnie Williams in a CNN story on the hoax. "I got my heart broken just like this, so trust me, this is a creepy, deceptive low life way of either playing with someones emotions or getting money or information out of them."

Twitter offers verified accounts to help us discern public figures from their imitators. Even President Barack Obama in a Reddit chat posted a picture of himself to verify his identity.

At CNN, we Skype with eyewitnesses on the scene of breaking news or have them stream live video of themselves and landmarks to verify that they really are where they say they are. At iReport, we call people on the phone to confirm their submissions.

Doubters wonder if Heisman Trophy a factor in hoax

Still, people fall for tricks by the droves and some of them have become iconic, if not old and dusty.

The classic e-mail scam known as the "Nigerian Letter" or "419" asks for money and your bank data to help out someone who claims to be in a pinch. The person promises to repay your kindness bountifully. Right.

Help! A Facebook friend is stuck in a foreign country and needs you to wire him money right away.

Or you sell something on Craigslist, and the buyer asks if she can overpay by money order and have you refund the difference in cash. Then the money order turns out to be fake.

Online identity scams have multiplied in form and name, phishing via e-mail spread to text messages, prompting the term "SMShing."

Vishing is the low-tech version, when someone simply lies to you over the phone ("V" stands for voice) to dupe you into handing over your identity.

Timeline: How the story unfolded

Te'o, for instance, says he was scammed digitally and over the phone .

As naive as someone who falls for a fake online girlfriend may seem, it's not hard to do, even for a sports superstar, said Nev Schulman, who hosts the MTV reality show "Catfish."

"When you make a connection with someone online, oftentimes it feels a little limited, but also safe," Schulman told MTV News. "Then people open up and get very close without scrutinizing the other person."

Still, we take steps. Step one: We Google. Relentlessly.

Before a blind date. Before picking up a concert ticket we bought off someone. Before hiring someone to rake our yard.

Because on the Internet, we the dog catchers have our work cut out for us.

Social media jump all over hoax story

What steps do you take? What are the signs you look for to verify someone's real? Were you still duped? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Part of complete coverage on
Manti Te'o hoax
updated 3:25 PM EST, Thu January 24, 2013
Manti Te'o has again admitted to lying, marking at least the second time he has acknowledged knowingly spreading falsities in the saga of his fake dead girlfriend.
updated 11:47 AM EST, Sun January 20, 2013
The Notre Dame linebacker told ESPN that he wasn't part of the hoax involving a deceased girlfriend.
updated 11:28 AM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
This may be the strangest twist in a tale overflowing with strangeness. Manti Te'o's deceased girlfriend tweeted late Wednesday night.
updated 9:46 AM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
Te'o is now a meme -- posting pictures of yourself with your arm around an imaginary girlfriend. They call it "Te'oing."
updated 10:44 AM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
Manti Te'o's Twitter bio reads: "Life is a storm.. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes." The storm has arrived.
updated 11:04 AM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
Oh, the stories we storytellers tell. Like the story of brave Manti Te'o and his doomed girlfriend. We love a good story. We love spinning a good yarn.
updated 9:46 AM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
Was Manti Te'o a hapless victim or a duplicitous co-conspirator?
updated 9:52 AM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
I wouldn't normally pay much attention to a sports star, even a Fighting Irish hero.
updated 7:36 AM EST, Thu January 17, 2013
Here are some of the recent events in the bizarre story of Manti Te'o and a dead girlfriend who apparently never existed:
updated 8:50 AM EST, Thu January 17, 2013
After word broke of a hoax about the death of star Manti Te'o's "girlfriend," it didn't take long for "Te'o" to become the top-trending term on Twitter.
updated 7:52 AM EST, Thu January 17, 2013
As the big game with No. 10 Michigan State approached, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o had a heavy heart after he learned his girlfriend had lost her fight with leukemia.
updated 10:17 AM EST, Thu January 17, 2013
A dog tapping away at a computer keyboard turns to another dog and says, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."
updated 4:40 AM EST, Thu January 17, 2013
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick compared the alleged hoax about a "girlfriend" that ensnared linebacker Manti Te'o with the documentary "Catfish."
updated 11:22 PM EST, Wed January 16, 2013
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o said he was the victim of a "sick joke" that had him and legions of fans believing in a "girlfriend" who may never have existed.
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