After my long-term, long-distance relationship came to an amicable (albeit unexpected) end, I was thrown back into the dumpster fire that is dating. Since this is the 21st century, I signed up for Match.com. This was against my usual good judgment, but breakups are like politics: they make people stupid.
As I expected, the process of online dating is largely a matter of avoiding scams. These range from attempts to lure people to porn sites to more elaborate dating scams. Simple scammers rarely email, they try to lure people with the free winks, free likes and by making you a favorite. For this essay, I’ll focus on the simplest of scamming techniques, the fake profile. While I will not cover all the ways to spot one, I will offer what I hope will be some useful advice from the perspective of philosophy. I’ll begin the top of the profile.
Match and other sites have users create a profile name, such as Lovecatsmorethanmen88 (which might be a real profile, if so I apologize). While fake profiles can have names that are indistinguishable from the real ones, there are two main giveaways. The first is a name that is a phone number, such as txtme86753089. The second is a name that tries to give an email address, such as scam_gmal. While some real users might try to save a few bucks this way, that is presumably very rare.
The photos also serve as a good indicator for scams. If a person has a single photo of a beautiful person, there is a good chance it is a fake. After all, everyone has a smart phone and can take unlimited pictures. Loading many photos takes time and scammers presumably need to crank out fake profiles. That said, there are real users who have just one picture—so the one photo clue is not decisive.
Unusually provocative photos are also an indicator that the profile is a fake, but this is not a guarantee—presumably real users are not averse to using some raw sex appeal.
A rather obvious indicator is the use of stock photos taken from the web. In some cases, the faker makes it easy by leaving the “watermarks” in place. For less obvious cases, you can right click in Chrome and do a Google image search. While this does not work all the time, it can reveal some obvious fakes. This can also help with photos stolen from people—a common practice on dating sites.
An extremely obvious indicator is a photo with text saying something like “text me 8675309” or “email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.” As with the profile name, some real users might do this; but it is most likely a scam.
Photos of an extremely beautiful person might indicate a scam—scammers do not use ugly photos as their bait. However, there are presumably some real profiles of people who are really beautiful. While it might hurt your ego, it is worth matching up the beauty of the person who has winked at you with your own appearance (and income, of course).
It is also smart to look for inconsistencies between the picture and the profile: check to see if the age, body type and so on match up. For example, a photo of a hot 20 something on a profile for a 40-year-old is likely to be a scam. That said, some people look awesome for their age…and people often post photos that are 5-10 years old (which is another form of deceit).
The text of a profile is also a good indicator of whether it is a scam or not. The scammers creating fake profiles are not going to spend a long time crafting a profile—they will only have a little text. The text also tends to be full of spelling and grammatical errors. They also often include an email address. For example, here is the text from what is almost certainly a fake profile:
I am looking for man who is serious in relations and reliable, words from his lips are materialized and his acts are saying more about his attitude to life. I can give my shoulder in rainy day and it’s normal for me. write please my e mail Remeda1997 gma. Mutual support, sharing bad and funny moments and looking on one page – the best what can hold both love birds ever! Age difference is not matter for me!
However, short profile texts are also common in legitimate profiles as is bad spelling and poor grammar. However, they will tend to be less obviously awkward in the use of the language. Scam profiles often have a certain feel to them—for example, they tend to promise (in awkward wording) all sorts of wonderful things (like “looking on one page”). They also tend to be a bit too accepting (“Age difference is not matter for me!”). More sophisticated scammers probably copy and paste from real profiles, which makes them harder to spot.
Another indicator is a profile that has not been completed. As noted above, simple scammers favor quantity over quality and spending too much time completing a profile is not an effective use of their time (or, more likely, the time of their minions). This is, however, not decisive: real users sometimes leave their profiles incomplete.
There has also been some analysis of how scammers complete profiles: 83% claim to be Catholic, 63% claim to be widowers, 37% claim graduate degrees, 54% claim doctorates, and 36% claim to be native Americans. 25% claim to work as engineers and 23% claim to be self-employed. These are, of course, not decisive—but it does provide some interesting insight into the approach to scamming. It is also important to note that this analysis was done by a specific site—there are bound to be differences between sites. As such, you should not assume that Mohawk Catholic widower with a PhD in electrical engineering is a faker. But it is worth considering if there are other signs.
If you get a wink, like or have your profile favorited by suspicious profile, the easiest and smartest response is to not respond or, at the very least, wait a while. Fake profiles are sometimes removed by the service (I have seen this happen many times myself). An actual person who is interested will probably email. While it should be needless to say, you should never send a text or email to a profile that tries to sneak in a phone number or address—those are almost certainly fake profiles. If you do get an email that immediately asks you to send a text or email outside the service, then it is likely a scam.
Yes, online dating is awful and probably best avoided.