How to spot a dating fraud, courtesy of the WSJ

Several days ago, I came across a tweet from The Wall Street Journal that asked “How can I tell if the person I met on an online dating site is fake?” Do tell, WSJ.

The first two sentences of the article were spot on: “As with many relationship issues, the first step is to listen to your gut. If something seems off, it probably is.”

I wish they stopped there, but they didn’t. Instead, the article proceeds to offer some very questionable tactics for sussing out a phony. Three of my favorites:

Ask the person to send you photos. Do a photo search using a tool such as Google Image Search to determine if that photo appears on someone else’s social-media site.

Copy the person’s email address or parts of his or her profile or messages and paste them into a Google search to see if they show up elsewhere.

Make sure the person shows up in public searches. If he says he owns a house, does it show up on Zillow.com?

In other words, the WSJ suggests that we all act like lunatics. That we confirm someone is who he or she claims to be by lurking around online and cross-referencing his or her digital profile. That we verify someone else’s authenticity by becoming amateur detectives. Talk about bad advice.

The real problem with adopting the crazy behavior they propose is that once you do, it’s hard to stop. Make a habit of conducting image searches and you’ll think nothing of combing through decades of employment history on LinkedIn or hundreds of photos on Facebook. With any luck, you can estimate your date’s salary and map out all past relationships before you even really get to know him or her. But why stop there? Take a peak at his phone while he’s in the bathroom and riffle through a few drawers while he’s out with the dog. Does that apartment listing you found on Zillow have a fire escape? Well climb on up there! See what you can see.

Sadly, getting burned is all part of the process and anyone in the dating scene knows it. I once went out with a banker whose online profile led with “Nice guy.” He turned out to have a wife and child in Israel. Several months later, I met a lawyer on the same site. I got a text message from him one morning just after he left my apartment. It said, “There’s something I should tell you. I’m moving to Houston on Monday.”

But even with those horror stories in mind, I’m not in favor of adding more crazy to the dating game with online detective work. I’d rather exercise more caution and try to develop a better sense of judgment. If nothing else, I’d prefer to do things the old-fashioned way and find out that someone is a nutjob when he goes on a rampage at a restaurant because his butternut squash ravioli arrive cold.

Tempting as it may be to try and save myself the time and trouble – not to mention the heartache – of finding out that someone is a fraud early on, snooping isn’t the way to do it. It’s possible that I’ll find a rotten apple, but it’s just as likely that I’ll scare off a good one.

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