One of the most covered stories of the past few days has been that of Manti Te'o and the hoax surrounding the girl he claimed to be his late girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. While this story has stunned us all, We will let others cover the more sensational aspects of this story and put our focus upon any legal issues involved.
While most media outlets have taken to calling this situation a hoax, there have been a few that have used the term prank in their coverage. In common practice, both terms imply a false representation being made with the intention to deceive someone, generally to hilarious ends. This definition shares much with the definition of actionable fraud, however in addition to the false representation being made with the intention to deceive, fraud requires that the deception be practiced in order to induce another to part with property or some legal right. This can be examined from multiple angles depending upon if Te'o was an accomplice to the hoax or not. If Te'o was the victim, does he himself have a cause of action against those who perpetuated the hoax? It does not appear so because at this point it does not seem that those behind it (Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and the others he has implicated) were doing it for any personal gain. An example of where actionable fraud existed would be if the had tried to get Te'o to send money to Lennay for medical bills or something similar. With that not being present, while it does beg the question of what reason they had for perpetuating the hoax, we will leave that to others to answer in due course. If Te'o himself was part of the hoax, once again it does not appear that it meets the level of fraud, because there was no inducement to deprive anyone of property. An example where it would be fraudulent is if Te'o had urged donations to a specific fund to benefit Kekua which those involved used for their own personal gain.
So it does not appear that there is anything that rises to the level of actionable fraud in this situation but there are civil courses of action which Te'o could look into if he wished such as intentional infliction of emotional distress.
This blog is not legal advice, but a general explanation of the law that is not specific to your case, if you have one. If you have questions concerning your rights, a recent police interaction or any other legal issue please contact either General Practice Law Firm or another attorney for a proper application of the law to your case.