I’ve been down so long it look like up to me
They look up to me
I got fake people showin ‘fake love to me
straight up to my face, straight up to my face
Somethin ‘is not right When We talkin’
Fake Love (listen to song while reading 🙂
So this story is a challenge to publish because it exposes some personal vulnerability, but it’s importance outweighs my personal challenges – so here goes. Fake love? What’s this about, you ask?
Online dating scams.
I was an unwitting target of an online dating scam, but luckily, my “spidey-sense” kicked in, I got curious and unraveled the scam. I also had a happy by-product of the whole escapade: I discovered and met the other victim in this case: the REAL guy whose images were stolen by the scammers to lure me in. “Outsmarting” the scammer in this way was consolation for me, making up in a small way for the angst of feeling exposed and vulnerable.
So, I publish this blog for two reasons: 1) to expose this creepy phenomenon to friends who haven’t had direct exposure to it and 2) to again show why its good to be online web-savvy enough to navigate sites and tools to protect yourself.
Two things to ponder as I tell the tale:
A. Are we really in danger of living online too much, retreating into a false online universe? Or, conversely, when you’re not active and savvy online, are you even more vulnerable because you’re not knowledgeable enough to protect yourself?
B. What is the responsibility of Match.com, Linked In and other sites where fake profiles are abundant, to police their sites, troll for perpetrators using tools like Google Images and communicate with victims who file complaints? (Hint: they don’t do shit.)
First, the facts
I’ve tried telling this story enough times to know I have to explain the facts chronologically or it’s confusing. Here goes:
- I was contacted on Match.com by a guy named Jens, who lived near me in the Bay Area, was born in a German-speaking European country, and was a coastal engineer, so traveled allot for work.
- We talked and texted for a while without meeting, due to his travel, my travel and some “emergencies” on his side. Many pictures and videos were shared, all contextually correct (a video of him driving in the rain when it was raining in the Bay Area.) I was buying into it at this point. This was a handsome guy enamored with me and it was flattering.
- Suddenly he had a new client with projects in China and Ghana – and he chose Ghana, where he would work for 4-6 weeks.
- After being in Ghana for a couple of weeks, the inevitable “crisis” occurs and he asked me for money. The pictures from Ghana weren’t looking so convincing – looking like a White guy photo shopped into some scenes in Ghana. Now, it was clear it was a scam, but I wanted to learn how this well-oiled machine worked.
- I took a few of the more gorgeous pictures of Jens, put them into Google Images for a reverse search and found that the images were of a guy names Terrance in NYC who is an actor and model, with quite a following. I looked at Terrance’s social media profile on Instagram and found every single image “Jens” ever sent to me.
- I emailed Terrance, told him how his images were being used, and he was outraged and pissed at the theft and deceit. We agreed to report the incident to Match and Linked In as victims from opposite sides of this.
- Happily, during a planned trip to NYC in April, I met Terrance and cathartically brought this whole scam experience to closure for me.
Now, my color commentary on this kind of scamming and my experience with it.
A. Yeah, I admit it – I’m online too much.
I get paid to manage online interactions (social channels and websites) for the mega-huge business software company I work for. Social media is something I do personally too – I am an early adopter from way back. I interact with people and conversations online everyday. I’ve got connections with people from every stage of my life and most of those connections are people I never see. So connecting with people online is not foreign; it’s very familiar. Then, enter stage right: In steps a “guy named Jens” who sees me on Match.com, adores me from day one and says all the right things. He quickly suggests we move the conversation from Match to connect on Linked In and we begin to text. He looks incredibly handsome, has great talents and intellect, lives in an expensive house, has a non-descript “euro” accent (from Liechtenstein and speaks fluent German, their native language) and does all the things I like to do (yoga, salsa..)
This “guy named Jens” lives in the San Francisco Bay Area like I do. Over time, the adoration is so over-the-top that you get seduced. Trouble is, between his schedule and mine, we can’t seem to meet in person. This goes on for a month, but I’m used to remote communication so I’m going along with it. We’re all busy. Noticeably, the images His images go from contextually – correct U.S – based photos to badly photo shopped images of him in Ghana. It gets really nuts from here, but my “WTF” curiosity kept me thinking – “where is this crazy thing going and how are these scammers so “skilled” (except for the photoshop skills.)
Then, from the textbook of “Romancescam 101”, the request for “financial assistance “ comes, to be wired through Citibank to a Ghanaian bank. Seems he was attacked, in the hospital, his own personal funds couldn’t be wired to help him out of the jam… $100,000 you need, you say? Ok, this is nuts and I really start Googling “online dating scams”. Lot’s to read, I find. For example, here is “FBI Warns of Online Dating Scams”. Women and men send millions of dollars each year to scammers like this. I learn through reading is that something you can do is go to Google Images, enter one of those “Damn! he is fine” pictures I was sent – and sure enough, this REAL person pops up who is an actor, model, writer with quite a following. Happily, Terrance replies overnight.
Was I too confident in my ability to get to know a potential suitor online, thinking, “yeah, I live online, I know how to do this”? YES. Was I so hungry for love and adoration that I looked past some subtle and not so subtle clues? YES (but this scammer was quite skilled.) But if I didn’t know all that I know about how to use online social tools to track down the “real guy Terrance” on Instagram and elsewhere, I wouldn’t have untangled this scam.
B. Match.com and Linked In seem very uninterested in rooting out these scammers and banishing them from their sites. Multiple reports, multiple calls later, I got Linked In to remove the obviously fake profile, but the one on Match is still there. I got routed to a call center in India to talk to a Match employee about this fake romance scammer and it was a nightmare-ish experience to try to communicate this delicate topic with this heavily accented and scripted, limited-knowledge call center rep in India. If I can use Google Images and find stolen/fake images and profiles, can’t Match and Linked In do this, using AI or some such technology? Instead, I learn that standard operating procedure is “Got a scam? Take a number and get in line…”
And Lastly, Making Lemonade…
The “real guy Terrance” and I met up last month in NYC.
In addition to modeling, acting and writing, he is a personal trainer and we worked out in Central Park. Great guy, very compassionate. Happily married for ~ 35 years with lots of family, etc. What a gentleman to make time for me and give legitimacy to my very real, freaky emotional attachment to him (or his images, anyway.) He is greatly offended by how some of his most cherished images were used to lure me in emotionally (e.g. him kissing his 104-yr-old Dad.)
What can be done? As the “real guy Terrance” said, “when we’re active in social media, heck, when our images are what we sell, they are not ours and we can’t control what gets done with them, even when it’s the business we are in as actors and models.”
So what happens now? I buck up, my skin gets thicker and the journey towards love continues, albeit smarter and more demanding of real love. Besides, I had a great workout with a very handsome new buddy and partner-in-crime-busting in Central Park, which was sooo much fun. Lastly, I have the satisfaction of knowing one less dating scammer scored.