Love in the Time of Algorithms

Fake Soldiers, Fake Investment Bankers, and Other Online Dating Scammers to Watch Out For

Online dating is plagued with scams. Meet the investigator who wants to help you navigate your date.

investidate Fake Soldiers, Fake Investment Bankers, and Other Online Dating Scammers to Watch Out ForLast week, Betabeat ran a feature about a common online dating scam: sites that buy and sell profiles to plump up their databases. But as we learned while investigating that story, dubious practices by dating sites are far, far outshone by dubious practices by dating site members. “The number one scam is the daters themselves not being authentic,” said David Evans, an industry veteran and author of the blog Online Dating Insider. “That by far dwarfs anything else you’ll dig up.”

Dating scams range from using a dishonest photo from ten years or 30 lbs. ago, to the “long con” or “affinity scam” in which a dater wriggles his way into your life and, after he or she has earned your trust, cleverly extorts money for a get-rich-quick scheme. “If a man asks you for money on the Internet do not give it to him,” Mr. Evans said. “It just boggles the mind how often women get fleeced. Men get fleeced too–I got an email this morning, ‘she moved in with me burned down my house and took my money.’” Worse, Mr. Evans has talked to many women who were attacked or raped by someone they met on a dating site.

It’s enough to make singles run for cover. But Maria Coder, a former investigative reporter, is a professional InvestiDater. In the course of working the crime beat, Ms. Coder started to compile resources for hapless daters: CriminalCheck.com and FamilyWatchdog.us, free criminal sex offender databases and SpyDialer.com to hear someone’s voicemail without having the phone ring are just a few. Ms. Coder still dates online–”online, offline, wherever I can get a date I take it”–and her favorite dating site is Craigslist’s personals, believe it or not. She’s developed her research into a book and a series of classes.

“It can be a lot of fun, but it does come with certain dangers too,” Ms. Coder told Betabeat yesterday by phone, on a furtive break from her day job as a publicist. “I started to get concerned about myself dating Joe Shmoe off the Internet and not knowing what could happen to me or my friends.”

She related her online dating story of woe: after months of dating, she started to suspect the man she trusted had something to hide. “I saw it coming in a way,” she said. “But I thought the book was playing tricks on my mind. I actually stopped working on the book for several months because I thought it was playing with my mind.” Unfortunately, it turns out her instincts were correct: her partner was hooking up with strangers via Facebook.

Now, through her website, classes and at events like the divorce expo Start Over Smart, Ms. Coder is immersed in stories of online dating tragedy. “‘He was married, he had children, he had a family,’” she paraphrased of common complaints. “‘He was after my money.’” Other dating pitfalls include addicts and petty liars.

maria coder Fake Soldiers, Fake Investment Bankers, and Other Online Dating Scammers to Watch Out For

Ms. Coder. (investidateyourdate.com)

One common scam among men is to pretend to be a soldier; another is to pretend to be an investment banker. Women can check these claims out with StolenValor.com, Archives.gov and the FINRA broker database, BrokerCheck. Find out if your prospective date has had multiple bankruptcies, in which case he or she may be digging for treasure. Check their voicemail to make sure they sound like who they say they are. Ms. Coder advises online daters to stream all their dating activity through one anonymized email address, keep it updated throughout the date by sending messages to yourself from the cab, and give a friend the password.

Ms. Coder’s classes include “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing 101,” and the slightly more advanced “Are You Dating an Ass?” She is working on a third class that will involve a trip to the courthouse. Her book, “InvestiDate: How to Investigate Your Date,” is out in paperback and will be out as an ebook soon.

“It’s kind of like Inspector Gadget,” she said. “You’re the most prepared person on the block.”

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com