He had no face.
The message in my inbox read, ďHey, I canít upload photos with my new phoneĒ, and then professed passionate love and devotion. The sender was someone I had never met. My immediate thought óthis stinks of a scam.
Unless youíre living in the dark ages, you know the FBI warns against sending money to any online strangers. No matter how convincing the story, how heart rending the details, itís probably a con artist.
Last week, I wrote about a widow who gave her life savings to an online dating scam. Though most scams donít escalate to the $500,000 level, scammers can at least flatten your ego, if not your wallet.
Rather than focus on the actual scams (because there are oodles of them), letís talk about what you can do to avoid going waist deep to begin with.
Pictures are a sure fire way to test the legitimacy of a dating profile. First, if a profile photo looks too good to be true, it probably is. Is he or she in Dior jeans and posing in a studio? Whereas it may appear God has granted your wishes, that model might be a 55-year-old computer geek whoís smirking at your gullibility.
In an article on Online Dating Safety, reporter Kurt Knutsson shared some valuable tips on the mug shot.
First, look for physical descriptions that arenít proportional. For example, the man on OkCupid who claimed he was 140 pounds of muscle and six foot two didnít add up, much less the woman with full-figured curves claiming she was 120 pounds of skinny.
Next, do a profile picture test. As mentioned, professional photos are a red flag. Now, models are looking for love just like the rest of us, but letís be honest: they probably donít need a dating profile to find it. Instead, look for multiple amateur photos (hereís where the selfie does some good). You can use Google Goggles to search for the photo and see if it can be found elsewhere online. If it is has a watermark or shows up on a modeling website, the profile is probably a fake.
Be a photo detective. Look for wedding rings, conflicting hobbies (they claim to be afraid of heights but have skydiving pictures), and how the subject dresses and see if it coincides with their profile information. Also, if people wonít send pictures of themselves or if their profile does not have a picture, it might be best to leave it alone.
Steer away from the orange pylons of strange communication. Screen all the messages you receive. Ignore vague, repeated or immediate responses to your messages. Someone (or something) contacted my profile on Plenty of Fish with the same message three times, at 15-minute intervals. This kind of communication should make the red lights blare. Poor or inconsistent grammar is a telltale sign that this might be some con artist from Nigeria (or someone who didnít pass elementary English).
Scammers usually make the first move, and can easily create a bogus profile that sounds like your ideal mate. Make sure youíre not reeled in at the first bite.
Be on the lookout for story inconsistencies, for facts that donít add up when you ask questions. Itís an unfortunate fact of life that some people use the Internet to create new identities, oftentimes for unsavory reasons. If your online dating partner appears to be backtracking or covering a confusing web of lies, they might be attempting to steal more than just your heart.
Another great way to fact check is to see if your contact has another online presence (such a Facebook account). If not,† you might want to look elsewhere.
While you are at it, know that though online dating is generally safe when used correctly, there will always be those creepy individuals who will stalk your page repeatedly. If someone is making you uncomfortable, block and report them. Itís better than waking up every day to another email from a profile that makes you cringe.
Finally, if you are really serious about online dating, avoid the free websites. Nothing against free dating sites, but itís often found that married people frequent free dating sites. A free site eliminates suspicious credit card or bank transactions. An added bonus is that a married person is seldom looking for a long-term relationship, and letís face it: free sites have the reputation for being casual encounter mills. If you do decide to brave the risquť photos and random stalkers who appear magically on free sites, be doubly careful.
(Editorís note: This is the third part of a four-part series on online dating. Read, ďWho are you? First hand accounts of online datingĒ in next weekís paper.)