Digital Deceit

Updated: Monday, February 11 2013, 11:45 PM EST
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(NEWSCHANNEL 3) - In a Newschannel 3 special report we take an in-depth look at Catfishing.      
A "Catfish" is someone who pretends to be someone they're not, using Facebook or other social media to create false identities in order to pursue deceptive online romances.
The victims tend to be young adults who are looking for love online.
A recent example is Manti Te'o. That debacle went national bringing awareness to Catfishing.
Anyone can become a victim of Catfishing.
The digital deceit is now running rampant on college campuses in West Michigan.
One case in particular involved 21-year-old Aaron Estes, a Michigan native who was recently suspended for Catfishing from Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac.
Estes was profiled on the MTV show Catfish.
Estes created the identity Amanda Miller, a seductive Western Michigan University student and conned Tyler Hayden of Davison, Michigan into thinking there was potential for love.
"If I were given the chance to meet her, it would lead to a relationship," said Hayden on the MTV show.
But on the show Tyler found out Amanda was a gay man, and told Estes how he felt about the deception.
"You are a compulsive, pathological liar and to be honest I don't have any room for that in my life," said Hayden.
But the Catfishing did not stop there.
Estes tells Newschannel 3 months before the MTV show aired he was deceiving hundreds of other men online.
Many of them he had explicit, sexual conversations with while attending Southwestern Michigan College.
We asked him on the phone why he did it.
"Why I did it? Because I was bored or lonely.  It's not the best way to cope with life," said Estes.
Newschannel 3 went to Southwestern Michigan College to find out what happened.
The Executive Director of Campus Life and Housing, Eileen Crouse, says an off-campus student found out he had been Catfished by Estes, and alerted college officials.
"Seeing this young man (Estes) around campus, made him so upset it interfered with his ability to function, go to school and participate in campus activities," said Crouse.
An investigation was launched and Crouse says under the college's code of conduct, Estes was charged with sexual misconduct and abusive behavior, and immediately removed from the dorms.
"I don't want to compare it to sexual assault, but the emotional effects on victims can be that significant," said Crouse.
Estes tells us he made a big mistake.
"I feel horrible every day.  It's not healthy for you, I ask myself why am I doing this anymore?" said Estes.
But Estes is not the only Catfisher out there.
Southwestern Student Davaughn Nicholas says he was Catfished by friends just last week as a joke.
"At first I was like darn you, how could you do this to me?  Truthfully, I like attractive females and sometimes I fall into the pit of trying to talk to everybody. I'm a single man," said Nicholas.
College officials say students are especially vulnerable and sometimes too trustworthy online.
"They've grown up with this technology, it's very comfortable and normal for them, and it's here to stay," said Crouse.
Estes says he's learned from his mistakes and hopes others do too. He tells Newschannel 3 he does not plan on Catfishing again.
"I have to dedicate myself to not go back down that road again," said Estes.
So how can young adults protect themselves?
We asked Aaron Estes for some tips.
He says if someone's profile lists a job, then Google it to see if it even exists.
Next, check the person's location.  If they say they live in Florida, but are commenting on the snow in Michigan, watch out.
Finally, Estes says look for untagged photos.
If they have pictures with friends and none of them are tagged, it’s a sure sign the identity is fake.
Right now, it is not against the law to Catfish someone, but as seen in Estes' case colleges such as Southwestern Michigan will not tolerate it.
It just goes to show, you can never be too careful what you post online.Digital Deceit
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