Don’t Get Fooled Again :: Dealing with Web Profile Deception

by Padraic Maroney

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday February 20, 2011

It's hard to meet guys when you are new to a city. Steven Le Vine had just moved to Los Angeles and to help him meet men he used the website Adam4Adam. He was surprised when he got a message from someone who looked familiar. The pictures were a friend -- who lived on the East Coast, not L.A.

"I realized it as soon as they sent me a message because this friend and I never had that type of relationship, so I smelled a rat," Le Vine, President of Grapevine PR in California, explained. "When I realized that this person I knew in real life didn't have the same stats as the one messaging me -- such as wrong height and color hair -- I realized immediately that this person was using [my friend's] photos to fake their identity. I then told him I knew the real person, and 'nice try!' "

Despite Le Vine telling the impostor that he knew the guy in the picture, the guy remained unfazed and actually kept messaging Le Vine. For his part, Steven found the situation to be humorous. But his story is not uncommon for guys who are meeting people through dating web sites and mobile apps, only to find that the reality doesn't quite match their photos or profile details.

Everyone is doing it

While anyone with a computer or a smart phone has to deal with potential scammers, online and mobile dating has left single men vulnerable to being misled while on their journey to find a mate. With the emphasis on looks and youth in gay culture, the gay man is even more at risk of going through and incident like Steven did. Even though we live in a high tech world where it’s easy for people to check information, more-and-more people are using misleading information and/or pictures in the virtual dating arena.

"We all lie - 10 to 200 times a day! Everyone tells a lie, it’s just the level of lie," explains Janine Driver, The New York Times Bestselling Author of You Say More than You Think: Use the New Body Language to Get What You Want!, The 7-Day Plan.

Driver says that more people lie when talking on the phone than they do online or in e-mail. The reason, she says, is because if it’s in writing the lies can come back to haunt the person. But in a society where everyone has a camera phone, many have web cams or skype, why do people bother lying about their stats or use a picture? As Manhattan psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona says, many of the people who are misrepresenting themselves might be doing so by portraying how they see themselves rather than showing what the rest of the world sees.

"Most often, people will use pictures of themselves that are perhaps outdated, extremely flattering, or otherwise not an accurate reflection of their physical appearance. These individuals might have a slightly distorted sense of their own appearance. It’s not uncommon for people to stay connected with their sense of their own appearance on days (or in images) that they feel they are at their best, and to ignore, avoid, and minimize those times when they feel they are at their worst," Dr. Cilona explained. "So, it’s fair to say that in these cases the person isn’t really totally aware of the degree of disparity between images they present online and their actual appearance."

Hope-based fantasies

As for the people who do you a picture that is not entirely theirs, those guys tend to be looking for something that is missing from their lives deep down. Explains Dr. Cilona, "When someone is knowingly using outright fake images and still planning on meeting, this is usually motivated by strong emotional needs for love, relief from loneliness, desire for a relationship or interaction with another person, and needs for validation. These strong needs and emotions can feed thinking patterns like rationalization, denial, and false hope. The person may tell themselves that an in-person meeting will result in a chemistry so strong that the false photos won’t matter or some other hope-based fantasy."

That line of thinking is not one that is seen by Rochelle Peachey, the founder of website I Love You Accent. Peachey believes that the people are just fooling themselves to think that the unsuspecting person will overlook the deception, and physical difference, for the person’s personality.

"Why on Earth portray yourself as something you’re not? It’s not going to happen. Absolutely, they think he’ll be captivated by my wit. But it’s not going happen. He will feel like you’re wasting his time," said Peachey. She adds that one of the benefits to online dating is being clear about what type of person you are looking for. "You can be very specific in what you are looking for as long as you’re polite."

The consequences surely must weigh on those who pose as someone else, right? Dr. Cilona says that that thinking about what might have if they caught might not occur until it is too late and someone confronts the person.

"Thinking about real consequences to these kinds of misleading profiles are often not something that is considered until and unless it happens. If anything, these kinds of thoughts will be minimized or denied and avoided. The driving emotions behind all of those issues can actually make it quite easy to deny and avoid thoughts about real-world consequences," explained Cilona. "The anonymity of the internet also makes it much easier to do this since it can insulate people from any real consequences."

"You still have to use your common sense, if it is too good to be true it probably is. Do a little bit of checking," warns Stef Safran, the Recessionista Matchmaker of Stef and the City in Chicago.

You always hear on the news about people who met the love of their lives online only to have him swindle them out of their life savings. The question that comes to mind is how did the victim not see what was happening and how much should the sites be policing their users. This varies from site to site and differs among apps.

Grindr recently implemented a new policy of approving pictures before they are posted. But Joel Simkhai, Founder and CEO of Grindr says it’s hard to be policing all of the pictures that users are posting, however, they do have guidelines of what is allowed and what isn’t.

"We do not allow you to post pictures that you don’t have permission to post. You aren’t even allowed to post a picture of you and your friends. You are only allowed to post yourself or other things," Simkhai said a few days before the announcement was made on the app about the new photo approving process. He adds that he is wary to put too harsh of regulations on the community though. "From my perspective, and I think from perspective of community, it’s a community that has to set up its own kind of structure and ethos. That’s kind of goes back to we only get involved when certain specific reasons; our terms of service and enforcing that."

A false sense of intimacy

While sites and mobile apps do take precautions to keep people honest, some of the responsibility needs to be taken on by the users. As Peachey says, if you meet someone in a restaurant you aren’t going to just give them money. Meeting on the Internet or on your phone is the same thing, but it can provide a false sense of knowing the person.

"I think it’s important for anyone using online dating sites to have realistic and adjusted expectations. These kinds of issues are likely to be encountered at one point or another by anyone involved in meeting others online. Expecting this and being prepared for it is important. This is not real-world dating or interaction. It’s the internet," said Dr. Cilona.

Simkhai agrees and that is why, with Grindr, he always encourages users to get together in person as quickly into their meeting as possible. By having a real life interaction fairly soon after making contact it will help to alleviate the issue of creating the person in your own imagination.

"That’s not them in real life. You start filling in the blanks, you start imagining things that aren’t based in reality. Nothing can replicate the real life. That’s how important it is to meet; make it as quickly as possible. Nothing you do will replace that," explained Simkhai. "Even if person being 100% truthful and you might be being truthful; but most of the time it’s never 100%. It’s about meeting people and seeing who’s a match for you."

Some newer options have come out that will allow a person the added benefit of making sure they are not being falsely lured into meeting someone who is 100 lbs heavier or a foot shorter than they say. With Stef and the City, Safran has works with both straight and gay clients to help them meet people. The way her program works, however, is not merely matchmaking, but rather she describes it as "a life coach for your social life." They will work with their clients to find them a match, but will also work to try to expand their activities because as Safran explained, "People get into ruts and keep doing the same things [without realizing it]. We find out your balance and give you four categories that we want you to try to meet people."

A new Facebook app named Heartbroker, which just launched this past week, takes a different approach. It uses information from testimonials that friends write about you to fill out the user’s profile.

These options give additional support that the person you are talking or meeting with is not lying or using a fake picture. However, if you prefer to continue on your own, Driver says there are plenty of little tells that people accidentally use than can help separate the fibbers from those being completely honest. These deceptions, which she calls hot spots, are easy to recognize once you know what to look for.

If you see someone saying I love long walks on the beach, I love going to the gym, I love drinking, and love being monogamous there is a problem. Notice that each of the qualities about the person has the word "I" in front of it. Driver says if there is a sudden change, it’s a warning sign.

"Look at the copy in general, it’s like the game we play when we’re little, which ones isn’t like the others," explains Driver, who met her husband online. "If 90 percent is written one way and then it changes it’s usually a hot spot."

She warns though that everybody is different and you must just by the writing in the profile. Some people will use pronouns and others won’t. It’s when they change that you have to take notice.

Driver says that this is one slip up that criminals made when she was working with the law enforcement. If someone says "by the way" or "incidentally" they are attempting to bury information.

Another word to be careful is when a person says "never." Rather than just merely saying no, the word never makes the response bigger. Driver does the compares of when a good looking guy walks by at a club and all of the guys put their hands on their hips and stick out their chests.

"People being truthful convey something, but liars try to convince you," Driver explains. "Never is stronger than no. I would never kill someone is different than I didn’t kill the man this morning."

Driver says she gives someone three times give a no. As long as she gets a straight answer within those three attempts, everything is okay and it means the person is most likely being honest.

"As long as you get the answer within the first three times the likelihood that they are telling the truth goes up 85 percent. If you don’t, it goes down 85 percent," explained Driver. "It’s huge to not have a no."

Like the old saying that there’s plenty of fish in the sea, Driver says there is no point in lying because there is always a match out there: "There is someone out there for everyone - compulsive liars, cheaters - you just have to find them."

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