Online Dating, Online Fraud: It’s All Relative

To me, online dating these days is not much different than online fraud.  I speak from personal experience on both – as someone who has experienced the thrills of online dating sites (NOTE sarcasm here) and has the privilege of witnessing the latest online scams that fraudsters pull on a daily basis.  I live in both worlds – and trust me, they are not much different.

Online dating is conducted much like a typical phishing scam.  Just as fraudsters spam millions of unwitting users into trying to divulge their personal information, potential suitors on a dating site cast a wide net in hopes of getting a response.  And much like you go through your personal email to weed out the junk, dating sites are no different.  On a typical day, I could get up to 15 to 20 emails (and then you have the ones that send you the same copy and paste email multiple times – even fraudsters aren’t that dumb).  Once the “I would never consider dating you in a million years” profiles are sifted through, you might have a few potential dates worth pursuing.  So you respond…

So let’s compare online dating profiles to online fraud.  There are so many to share, but I have narrowed it down to just a few.

Harry Houdini.  This is my favorite – and one of the most common.  I think of this potential suitor as similar to a well-known Craig’s List scam – the one where potential buyers want to purchase your item for $1,000 even though you are only asking $500 then sends you a check for $2,000, asks you to cash it, keep $1,000 for yourself, and send them back the rest.  Then they disappear – with your money.

In the dating world, the Harry Houdini is the one that keeps calling and texting you.  He seems like a great catch, is interested in everything you have to say, tells you how much he can’t wait to finally meet you.  Then the day comes: you tell him that you finally have some free time to make a date – and he disappears.  No more calls, no more texts.  And while he didn’t take your money, what he did take was a lot of your precious time…  Next!

The Spinner.  This one has red flags all over it.  Beware of this one.  I think of this potential suitor as similar to one of the most common phishing emails.  You know the suspicious email that screams, “Fraudulent activity has been detected on your account so you better update your information within 24 hours or it will be shut down.”  You can feel your brow sweating, your heart pounding, your head spinning.  And while your sense tells you it is a phishing email, there is still that part of you that wants to click on that link.

In the dating world, the Spinner will sweep you off your feet and leave your head spinning.  Within a couple of months, he will share his life story with you, show you his sensitive side, tell you how much he REALLY likes you, how much different you are from his ex-wife or girlfriend, how you’re the only woman who has met his kids, been in his house, seen him at his worse.  The list goes on and on.  There are red flags written all over the Spinner – the problem is you don’t see them because you are, well, left with your head spinning.  In the end, you’ll find out a lot more about the Spinner than you probably wanted to know – like perhaps how they were still in love with and pursuing their ex-wife the whole time you were together. As we blatantly state in our online consumer safety tips, “If it sounds too good to be true, more than likely it is.”

The Interrogator.  The Interrogator is actually quite comical.  I think of this potential suitor as one of those outrageous phishing attacks that so boldly asks for every bit of your personal information except your blood type.  In phishing attacks of yesteryear, a fraudster would attempt to steal very specific information such as your credit card number and expiration date.  Today, many phishing attacks are built with forms that ask for a wealth of data and personal history – even down to information such as answers to your challenge questions or your driver’s license number.

In the dating world, forget asking about your hobbies or what you do for a living.  The Interrogator cuts right to the chase, almost as though he has a predetermined list of interview questions ready the first time he talks to you.  Some of the questions are so bold you wonder, “Did he seriously just ask me that?”  But the funny thing about the Interrogator is that he feels completely entitled to have you answer his string of questions honestly and accurately as though you were a witness testifying in court, however, if you turn a question back on him, don’t expect the same courtesy in return.

Tommy Two Sides.  Tommy Two Sides is like the typical online dating joke you see all over the Internet.  I think of this potential suitor as similar to the phishing attack that lures you to a website in the hopes of catching a preview of the summer’s upcoming blockbuster film or seeing exclusive footage from a wildly popular current event.  In actuality, you are being redirected to a website that is chock full of malicious content and Trojans just dying to find their way on to your computer.

In the dating world, Tommy Two Sides is exactly what his name states – he has two sides.  He puts up a great online profile and portrays himself as having a great career, a personal life full of family and friends, and in most cases, he is usually a good looking guy.  However, once you get through a few emails and you make your way to talking on the phone, you really find out that he just lost his “career” and is now living in his parent’s basement, he really doesn’t have an amazing social calendar, and he is nothing but a big phony.  Unfortunately, you have to waste the ten minutes of your life (and the minutes from your mobile plan) to actually find this out.

There is really nothing that can prepare you for the world of online dating.  I’ve been there, and trust me, it’s a full-time job.  The excitement wears off real quick after you start to recognize the patterns, and you learn to spot the red flags instantly (almost like how risk-based authentication in online banking learns a user’s typical behavior and can spot potential fraud when a transaction or activity deviates from those normal patterns).

I have never been called a quitter in my life.  In fact, my mother used to tell me that if there was a picture next to the word persistence in the dictionary, it would bear my face.  However, I think I have finally found the one thing that is worth quitting.  In 2011, approximately 1 in every 300 emails contained a phishing threat.  When I think of that number and compare it to my online dating experiences, I have a better chance of being phished in the coming year than I do of finding someone special.  So I guess I will stick with what I know best – fighting online fraud.

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