(CC) Sanna, Chu, iDigitalTechnology

(CC) Sanna, Chu, iDigitalTechnology

 Picture this: You are forty something years old and you are about to hit your golden years. But still, you are sleeping two doors away from your parent’s room, or living in an empty apartment with a house pet as your only company. You spend most of your nights wrapped inside the blanket of your overly-sized bed, having dinners for one, and watching reruns of old sappy movies. Within the last couple of years, all of your friends however have been committed to a long term relationship filled with nights of candle-light dinner, strolls on the beach, picnics at the park and eventually a marriage of a lifetime and having kids.

For you the day has yet to come where you meet the so called “love of your life” and create a family your own. Thus, desperate times call for desperate measure. So what do you do?

You decide, what better way to meet hundreds of single men and women in just one click away other than... ONLINE DATING.

You’re listening to inQuery! The podcast show run by the Professional Writing students here at York University. We’re talking about the technology today while creating the ideas of tomorrow.

Online dating is a growing widespread industry, dominating as part of our everyday culture and societal norms. ICT’s role on online dating requires users to provide deeply personal information that will be collected to search for a considerable matche. Through the new stream of digital technology, many individuals are lured into dating sites and apps rather than approaching the good old traditional way of dating .

I thought, why not test out this theory. So I stood in the corner of the busy intersection of Jane and Lawrence and randomly asking pedestrians whether they have any experiences in online dating. These are the responses I received:

Me: Do you have any experience in online dating?
Pedestrian 1: Yes, I met have met a girl in Tinder.
Pedestrian 2: Yes. But it never actually worked out.
Pedestrian 3: Yes. It’s a great way to reach out to other single members.

Fact is, people are more interested in detailed profiles, algorithmic partnering, and monitored behaviour, rather than perhaps spontaneously meeting someone at a coffee shop, bumping into someone on the streets, meeting through mutual friends, or drinking with someone at a bar/ club. Online dating sites are the new cupid of the web, and the are big businesses!

Now that online dating has been a phenomenal use for developing relationships, user do not recognize its risk and dangers. In fact, once the user’s data is released into the cyber world, it can become publicly accessible, wrongly used and exploited.

What the public doesn't understand is that the information that’s release or disclose online is viewed, not only by other subscribers but also to the rest of the public members. They don't take extra caution when putting out deeply important information of their home address and job profession to simply the type of car they drive or even the place that they enjoy going to. All information is an asset for cyber criminals to discover and use.

Users do not take into account who they are communicating with at the other end of the screen. Thus, the privacy and security of information users choose to release online remain unprotected.And the scary part is that online dating sites are filled with cyber criminals who are just lurking to commit acts of fraud and scams. Through the use of romance and flattery cyber criminals successfully obtain users information and exploit it through their own personal use advantages.

Hello and my name is Marytoni Delos Reyes
Within the next 20 minutes, my podcast will focus specifically on the risky ventures of finding love online. It will involve the role of cyber criminals and their use of emotional and psychological manipulation towards vulnerable online dating victims.

It is within the next couple of minutes, I will be revealing answers to:
The process cyber criminals use to obtain the trust of online user
The interaction that takes place between the scammer and his target.
The type of victims cyber criminals often approaches.
And how online dating sites secure the privacy of their customer’s information?

Mary Rose: It was an ordinary night like any other. I was relaxed in my bed when I decided to open up my account and browse through some profiles before heading to sleep. Suddenly I was caught off guard by the sound of an incoming message. Opening the message it was from an active user, initiating a conversation with me.

Meet, Mary Rose Carlos. Mary Rose was a victim of a romance scam back in 2013. In this episode, she will talk to us about her relationship with the scammer, the developing process of the scam, and some of the thoughts and feelings she experienced.

Mary Rose: It was a simple greeting; his name and where he’s from, followed by- of course- a compliment on my profile picture. This was my first encounter with an online scammer. And I was completely clueless.

Me: What happened after receiving that message? Was there any aspect about him that caused any form of suspicions?

Mary Rose: At that moment, no. His profile appeared to be very attractive. He has a profile picture of a white attractive man casually smiling in front of a camera. He claimed to be a 26 years old man who lives in California. His bio contains a sweet description of himself and the type of woman he’s looking for. Now that I think about it, it seems that he purposely described me as his ideal woman after looking at my profile. Still, like any other, he seemed to simply be one of the many men who would talk to me online. Honestly, to me... He’s as normal as anybody else.

Scammers of online dating sites will construct a profile that’s meant to attract the attention of online users. According to Aunshul Rege, a PhD Professor on Criminal Justice at Temple University; a fake profile is thoroughly designed with an articulately worded essay, a list of hobbies,... a flirtatious tag line and even a quality picture. Scammers can use photographs that range from low-quality and heavily pixelated photographs to high-quality studio shots; often multiple shots of the same model are used, which strengthens the scammer’s credibility.

Scammers will browse through various photos of celebrities or perhaps even other online profiles that appear most decent and attractive. While some victims may not come into contact with scammers, their identities may still be misused. This is also known as identity fraud.

Identity fraud involves the impersonation of another person's private information without a given consent. This type of crime is often performed in social media since it permits impostors to shield their true identities and take on numerous others.

Me: So how did you respond to his message? How did your relationship go from then?

Mary Rose: Well, of course I never intended to carry on something serious considering the distance between us. I responded back just like I would normally do. I said hello and also provided little information about myself. From there we carried on a casual conversation.

Me: But it didn't stop there did it?

Mary Rose: Nop, unfortunately it didn't. After that night, our conversations became a daily routine. He would contact me every morning and would usually last the whole day. As the days progressed, we became a lot closer and got to know each other better.

Online dating scammers execute a well devised plan that will allow them to successfully manipulate the victim. They take time selecting and stealing photos, building up a character, and charming the user in order to provide a good impression. Aunshul Rege states that online scam usually takes a process of six to eight month where scammers rationalize, plan, and coordinate their crimes.

Me: What were some of the things he said that may have caused you to trust him or think that he was a nice guy?

Mary Rose: Well, there was different features that he deliberately displayed in order to gain my trust and make me feel comfortable. First and foremost, I think flattery and compliments were the key reasons to why I developed feelings. He would say thing like “You’re very attractive” or “I love the smile on your face” or “You seem like a kindhearted person”. You know, things of that nature. He basically, showered me with praises and made me feel acknowledged. Like I was at the centre of his universe; and.. well,I loved that.

The scammer’s use of compliments is a powerful tactic use to make the victim feel desirable and special. In fact, in the article Preying on Lonely Hearts, Tan Hooi Koon and David Yoong states and I quote, Indeed, studies have shown that such acts of adoration-giving compliments and praises and by giving assurance that one is special and desirable, could make one’s partner feel ‘good’ about him- or herself and lead to an increase in the emotional closeness and intimacy of a relationship. This will for sure, allow the victim to develop feelings.

Me: As your relationship progresses, did he perhaps provide any additional contact information about himself ? And was he very secretive or was he more open to answering any of your questions?

Mary Rose: Yes, of course he was very secretive. Especially when it came to contact informations such as phone numbers, address, and even skype for instance. All things were hidden to keep our communications strictly through messages, rather than perhaps phone calls or video caming. However, apart from his interest and hobbies he did provide other information about himself; but it only goes as far as his profession and background education. I think he chose to tell me this so that he can position himself as a very credible man with intelligence and a respectable career. And I couldn't help but admire that about him.

Online dating scammers will purposely present themselves with the best possible qualities. This will include false statements about a successful career with a high earning income and an attendance to a well creditable university. This is a reputable identity that presents attractive qualities to instantly draw the attention many online dating users.

Me: So he shared with you his career status.But did you also share with him what your job or your financial income was? Did you also provide any information that presents you as as a credible wealthy woman?

Mary Rose: Yes, he knew I had a job and where I worked but I don't recall providing him with any information about my income status.

In several situations users may not be aware that cyber criminals has access to their deeply personal information. Aunshul Rege states that online scammers can actually hack through online identity databases to find suitable victim and acquire sufficient information about them in order to assume their identity. Online scammers specifically targets individuals that have a solid credit ratings and an easily accessible credit card or bank account information. In other words, scammers will always target those that display high credential status.

Me: Was there any time that you found suspicions in him? That possibly made you think, ‘oh something about him is strange’ or you know ‘something doesn’t seem right here’.

Mary Rose: No. Not entirely other than his limited contact information. The thing about him is that he’s really good at delivering a good a character. In fact, I actually found him quite vulnerable and innocent at one point.

Me: Why is that?

Mary Rose: It was during the first week of our conversation. He immediately told me the story of how he actually ended up on dating sites. He said that he was not a regular user of online dating and that it was his friend who introduced him to it. This instantly made me think that considering his lack of online dating experience, he must have pure intentions and genuine feelings.

The online scammer provided information that will prevent the victim to form any suspicion around him. His claim to be “inexperience”, instantly removes accusation of being a skilled online scammer. And again I quote, Tan Hooi Koon and David Yoong who states, “...the scammer is trying to create the impression that he is not a person who frequently visits online dating sites and randomly look for romance. Instead, this may be his first time actually engaging in online dating. This information will give him a clean record of what he is really capable of doing.

Me: Alright so far you guys have been talking on a regular bases and using messaging as your only form of communication. You mentioned that he made you feel good and that he presents admirable qualities of success and innocence. But what really made you trust him at that point? I mean besides the compliments, his stable career, and naivety- why were you not able to immediately identify his wrongful intentions?

Mary Rose: Uhm well, I feel like the big factor that made me trust him the most is because of his character. He really was able to play a good role that showed concern and interest in my life. He would provide me with a lot of comfort and care by prioritizing my needs and showing respect for my feelings, values, and belief. He would speak to me with sincerity by asking questions like “Have you eaten yet? or “How was our day” or Have you gotten good sleep. You know, expressions that will really deceive his real intentions.I think that aspect about him really threw me off guard. I felt like there was a person looking out for me. A person that may actually be concerned about me. He displayed attributes that really highlighted his good qualities.

One way of proving one’s credibility could be to show consistency of one’s trustworthy behavior and willingness to commit to the relationship as interaction progresses.

Scammers do not have to hack into dating sites to create accounts; they easily create dating profiles at numerous matchmaking sites that has little to no security or background verification checks. More important skills include social skills; they are trained in the art of smooth-talking victims, establishing trust, and building confidence.

Online dating sites are where individuals with harmful intentions hide and impersonate online identities; until given the opportunity to strike at a vulnerable victim. Aunshul Rege states; online dating sites allow scammers to *quote cast their nets wider and disappear more easily. They can now access a larger pool of victims that are geographically dispersed with ease and anonymity. It is also through online dating sites, that cyber criminal are difficult to detect and track from a distance, therefore allowing them to easily replicate their crime. *end quote.

Romance scam is a severe issue that many people experience. However, I begin to wonder if there was a solution to all this. One way I thought, was by detecting the scammers profile and eliminating them. I thought online dating sites have a huge responsibility over the safety of their customers therefore should be taking action towards the severity of crimes that occurs.

I thought, Do online dating sites implement private policy and regulations towards the user’s confidentiality and consensual agreement. Does online dating provide background/ criminal check on each registered users? And are online dating sites detecting profiles that use “scamming behaviours”?

Rege states that there actually are few sites that do offer proactive strategies such as screening for patterns of scammer behaviour and deleting those profiles immediately. For instance, looks for scammers who blast email messages to thousands of people right after creating their accounts. It also looks for certain keywords and phrases that is associated to scamming. Online dating site, also provide safety policies by running backround checks on everyone who subscribe to its service. Other anti-scam websites, such as offer support services, such as scam education, and incident reporting. These sites also offer scammer databases that list the fraudster’s profile nickname and ‘real’ name, e-mail address, phone number, location, and address available to all subscribed users.

However, there are instances when online dating industry is hardly subjected to any privacy regulations and background checks are rarely conducted. Most dating sites handle scammers through a ‘report abuse’ featured on their websites. The responsibility of protection is on the online daters and not on the police or dating sites. The online users are expected to take caution of the information they release online and to the people they interact with. Therefore, they are held accountable for their own action when encountering cyber criminals. Many online dating site do not consider the safety of their customers and provide assistance or any form of legal action for the types of crime that occur within their website.

Me: How do you feel after you realize what he’s done to you?

Mary Rose: Truthfully, I felt stupid! You know, I thought, how could I not realize what his intentions were. How could I let my guard down so easily. I felt ashamed that I let a man toy with my emotions. I felt sick knowing that I actually developed genuine feelings for someone that doesn't even exist. That whole time, his identity was fake. He was a creation of a perfect man- and I feel for it. I was consumed by his charm, his flatter, and his promises. Every word he said was true to me- I believed it. I loved hard, and so I lost track of who I was; I lost judgement, reasoning, and most importantly- I lost myself.

To summarize everything, I think the famous quote“love is blind”,can be use to connect with the concept of online dating. Love is a difficult and conflicting process that has the ability to alter one’s mental state and behaviour. Online users are not aware of the manipulation that they experience, prominently because they are hypnotize with romance. This just shows how powerful love can be. Emotional manipulation can cause an impactful effect in the way one begins to think. Eventually, online victims grow deep affection towards the scammer, when they are in fact being exploited. Romance causes victim to act irrationally. They choose to abide with the scammer's request in exchange of obtaining a relationship. Love can make you vulnerable. It makes you weak, inferior, and naive. Therefore, before the flowers, hearts, and butterflies, remember to consider the shadowed identity behind the screen.

Work Cited

Koon, Tan Hooi, and David Yoong. "Preying on lonely hearts: A systematic deconstruction of an internet romance scammer's online lover persona." Journal of Modern Languages 23
(2013): 28-40.

Rege, A. (2009). What’s love got to do with it? Exploring online dating scams and
identity fraud. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 3(2), 494-512.