With the world becoming smaller thanks to the Internet, it’s also turning the living room into a prison of sorts. No longer is it necessary to go out to meet people, to possibly find “the one” who will be the soulmate, lover or life companion many believe is out there waiting to be found.
Now, with a few taps of the keyboard the world comes into your home with its attendant motley crew of “the good, the bad and the ugly.” And there is plenty of all three out there waiting for an invitation—to seek is to find.
After listening to the woes of many friends—both male and female—a close-knit group of us, all over 50, decided to put ourselves out there and see what came back. Two of us were reasonably hardened cases and one a complete innocent whose mother tongue is not English. We had only one criterion—we were going to be completely honest. Age, latest photo, who we are, what we’re looking for and we were prepared to meet those who agreed to do so. Our common goal was to make sure no one got hurt—and that included us.
We did a lot of mental and emotional prepping—yes, we were going to get rejected and no matter the reason we were doing this, no one likes rejection; we were probably going to meet all sorts of really weird and different people and we made sure everyone knew where everyone was and when they were supposed to return.
Then we hit cyber love world.
On first putting your profile online—which in itself is an exercise in willpower and patience—there’s an immediate hit rate akin to a mini avalanche, all of it “Dr. Feelgood” nonsense. Literally within minutes we girls were inundated with anything from “Hi” to “Hello” to “Hi Pretty” to “Your smile lights up my screen” cards, teddy bear hugs, flowers.
We put our profiles on the site and responded to everything; we also did a search and initiated action by showing interest with a “wink” or “friend request” to those that fit our specific criteria. Often we were rejected, but each time we went online it also invited the scammers to respond as they now could see what our specific searches/interests were and they responded with profiles that sounded good.
Then the serious research began, an exercise that required constant vigilance of each word written, and it was an eye-opener—not always of the gentlest kind.
Things we checked for:
- check the photo against the word profile—eye and hair colour, age
- the height if possible
- marital status
- has children
- wants children
- check every word, spelling, capitalization
- use of the correct gender
- use of either all capitals or all lower case; if there is a mix, how does it occur
- check age group responding and how did it match the criteria
- if words sound familiar, cut and paste and Google to find where else they appear
- check photos against “stolen photo” websites
- is the wording similar throughout or are paragraphs different
- how do profile language and email language compare
- are email addresses immediately included
- are telephone numbers immediately included
- does it have a photo, if not, ask
- where are most of them coming from
- check one against the other for word similarities
And what were they all looking for? Love, the one and only, the soulmate, someone to share the rest of their life with, to cuddle, go for romantic walks with—the usual, or at least that’s what they all said.
We allowed the obvious scams to “talk” to us—even by instant messaging.
Steve, 61, from the U.S., currently in Dubai working on the construction of a new mall which did not yet have a name and he would send photos. His emails were long and wordy and he eventually became too daring and sent an email that had obviously been written by at least two different people. We Googled “new shopping malls under construction in Dubai 2012”—none without a name. Sent him an email pointing out the flaws, asking if he would like to discuss this—he disappeared.
Mark, 60, in the U.S., overseeing his deceased father’s business that supplied raw materials to Tiffany’s from West Africa and Kuwait. Asked which countries in W. Africa and told him the ones we had done business in. He disappeared.
Barry, 37, from Kansas was widowed; his wife died giving birth to his son who was living in London in the care of a nanny. His photos showed a man in full military regalia and his profile said he definitely wanted more children. Really? A 37-year-old military man wanting children contacting a 58 year old peacenik who had grandchildren? What do you want? “Love has no age boundaries and I can learn a lot from you.” Right.
Howard, 37, from the U.S., currently a consultant to a major hotel in London, has an honours degree from a top-notch university in London, and can barely speak English. We contacted the hotel and asked for references—none were forthcoming.
Tim, 47, in the UK, nice photo, wrote well and appeared to be genuine, wanting “to correspond and take time to get to know you.” Hmm, I would really like to see who I am talking to, do you have Skype?” He disappeared.
Ryan, 47, from the UK, good looker, but across several emails forgot where he was from and morphed into Malaysian heritage with a cocoa factory that had recently burned down and was fighting the government for compensation. Photo popped up on one of the dating scam websites and was actually of Maxine in France.
Benny, 37, from Montreal, really likes fit, mature women—“they are really hot, if you know what I mean lol.”
Every now and then I cancelled my membership and a few days later would repost the profile. On cancelling, all previous correspondence and matches disappear and the whole game starts anew. It was interesting to see from which parts of the world the new “welcome mat” was being thrown. They were all situated in the U.S. or the UK. The batch locations for the U.S. would vary each time—a bunch from Illinois; another from Florida; then a plethora from New York. Those from the UK were always in London.
Most, if not all of these are probably someone based in West Africa, using the Internet to eventually solicit funds from the unaware. Some will take their time in baiting the hook and reeling in the victim. The majority have a distinct modus operandi and can be eliminated from the start.
Are there real people out there?
In effect, all are real unless a computer has learned how to hit its own keyboard – bots began with real people, after all. But yes, there are really real people out there who are looking to physically connect with another human but, how many are genuinely looking for “the love thing” is debatable.
The non-English speaking member of our group, after a severe shattering of all illusions, met one man who drove quite a distance to see her. He was older than his profile and immediately began discussing her finances and telling her about his possessions. He attempted to get her to go home with him otherwise wanting to stay the night with her. At least he was really searching for companionship of a kind.
I personally met six of the eight I was prepared to continue communicating with and it took a lot of reading between the lines, bending the letters and curling the punctuation before I was comfortable extending communication beyond the “Hi/Hello” stage.
Of these, three could be the founders of Hustler magazine and had me running for the hills; three will probably remain friends forever—one a close and trusted buddy; the other two I exchange emails with once a week to keep in touch. So, taking into consideration what I was doing, my “success” rate was really high at 62.5 percent.
But, what it took to achieve this was at times mind-boggling; on many an occasion I was ready to give up and if it hadn’t been for the others reminding me why I was doing this, I would have.
Of the three that had me running, one of the profiles reads verbatim with spelling errors as follows:
“Right now in my life, I am happy, joyous and free and I am very glad to be in this state. However there are times when I am a bit lonely and this is not so much loneliness as it is missing the company of a women I can share my life with. I am a runner and compete on the xxxxx circuit, I also workout regularly at the gym so I guess you can say I am in shape. I hav e a wide range of varied interst and am willing to try new things. I take life as it comes and enjoy it. I love to laugh and believe that everything happens for a reason. In finishing let me say it is difficult for me to communicate about myself via machine. Thanks for reading my profile and Take Care.
My ideal match should be happy go lucky with a good head on her shoulders so I can rely on her opinons.”
And the truth, after speaking many times on Skype and finally meeting this man face-to-face should read:
I am a 60 year old man. I am only lonely on weekends when I am not at work and have decidedly kinky views of love. I cannot walk very well, in fact very slowly. I have no interests except sex and the only new things I am prepared to try are only in this category. I allow the truth as close to me as a vampire does the sun.
My ideal match will need a good head on her shoulders to stay away from me. She should be prepared to not be listened to, be interested only in a non-reciprocal relationship, must bring along a third partner—preferably Asian, I want no opinions except my sister’s and I am a cyber stalker.
Can love to be found on the Internet?
Two of my closest friends met on the Internet and have been happily married for over 15 years, so the answer to that is “yes.”
Are there players out there that have nothing better to do but sit on the Internet and mess with people’s emotions? The answer to that is also a resounding “yes;” I saw it happen to a friend of mine and spent days gluing the pieces back together again.
Are there scammers out there who will use the word “love” to catch the heart and then open the pocket of the smitten? Oh yes, and this is where many of your responses will come from, although it will come in words so sweet and tender, you’ll only realize you’ve been caught after the cheque is in the bank—your cheque, their bank.
And, ladies, if you think we are the only victims, think again. There are women out there—probably more than men—looking for an opportunity to get out of their countries and find financial stability. They know how to grab a man’s attention and will soon have him hooked if not careful.
How can you prevent getting caught by scammers?
How can you know those who are only playing emotional games to feed some devious whim? How do you discern the ones that are really looking for their soulmate, their true love?
- Be aware. When you go out looking for love, you let down your defenses making yourself vulnerable and, yes, open yourself to excitement, but also disappointment and rejection. Be aware that there are people out there with ulterior motives who know exactly how to get whatever it is they want using love as the bait.
- Read! Look closely at what is being said. Check for discrepancies. I had one that sent me a message obviously cut and pasted from another profile. He was looking for a “man to share his life with” He gave his email address as firstname.lastname@example.org. Within seconds of posting the message, he realized his error, changed the email address to email@example.com but had forgotten to remove the “man” part.
- Use your intelligence. If your search criteria states that you’re looking for someone in a certain age group within a certain area and you’re receiving communication from people way out of both, don’t fall for it. Block them or report them.
- Look at the usernames used on the site. Be wary of anyone using their full name. Very few will do so, but this isn’t always the case (e.g. terrymills10 was not real). It’s also very unusual for men to use names like “readyforlove,” “iamtheoneforyou,” “redhotlover” or “prancingredhorse.” Others to be careful of are those that contain a bunch of numbers (e.g. weekendfree27569, bill47256) though the numbers could be their birth date or other random numbers that they’ve chosen and are real. Stay away from profiles that have a double “xx”—lexxy, foxxy, correxxion—in the name somewhere. They are usually exactly that “x-rated.” Many profiles have been quickly put together just to get on the site and will disappear at the slightest hint that you recognize them as scams.
- Be alert with profiles without photos. Some are truly shy people that do not want their pictures online and when asked for a photo will ask for an email address to send you photos. Watch how this is worded. “I would rather not post my photo on the Internet and would prefer to send it to your email address” is probably real. “I cannot upload the photo as having problems with the site” is nonsense. If a photo can be uploaded via email chances are it can go onto the site.
- Be alert when the very first message you receive from someone gives an email address and asks you to contact them by that means or requests your email address. They are probably spammers looking for email addresses. A way to handle this is to say you prefer to remain on the site until you feel comfortable. Spammers generally don’t respond to messages so you won’t hear from them again. Here is a message I received that was real, and it was the second message: “My full name is XXXX, I would prefer to speak off site to get to know you better. My telephone number is ….. my Skype address is …… my private email is …..” The ball was now in my court and I had a lot of information to fall back on should I need it.
- Most sites have instant messaging capabilities. Do not fall for the “do you have yahoo im?” trick. Stay on the site until you are comfortable. If the correspondent in any way has a problem with this, block them—they are trawling and not in a good sense.
- If you feel in anyway threatened while “chatting” online, remain calm and keep the person talking, go into their profile and do a print screen <PrntScr> paste it into a Word document and save all instant messaging history. Then report it to the site and, if under severe stress, go to the police.
- Do not send money to anyone—ever. Use your head. Someone who owns an oil platform off some coast and wants to meet you definitely doesn’t need your “$4,500 to do a quick repair before I can come to meet you.” That was one of the more outrageous ones, but the woman fell for it.
- Do not believe that paid sites are less likely than free sites to harbour scammers. I do not know how this is done, or how they get onto paid sites without paying, but they do. In fact, I have had more hits on a paid site than I did on the others. I did sometimes attempt to draw these people out and engaged them in a conversation often with hilarious results, but it took a lot of energy to do this.
The list could continue and it’s not meant to scare anyone away, only to caution. If you’re in any way concerned or not sure, you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to help you.
There are wonderful people on these sites—you simply have to do a lot of filtering. I have met some of them and will continue to see them as friends and, in fact, one of them came up with an alternative to online dating—Sidewalk Dating—people wearing tags displaying only their age, mingling on weekends at a park. Now there’s an idea—what you see is what you get…well, almost.