The Fishy World of Internet Dating
I wrote this article on 30th April 2013 but never published it. I think it makes sense to share an updated version now.
In 2013 I read a blog post by someone who bravely shared a horrible experience of online dating and this inspired me to write about my experiences. I do know people who have had positive experiences of online dating, but anyone entering into into this world should do so cautiously, whether they are male or female.
Looking back, online dating was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. You may first welcome the idea without realising how vulnerable you might be naturally at that point in your life! If you decide to stop, you don’t realise that you may be continually pestered for payments from the sites you subscribed to, and other sites to which you never have subscribed but are affiliated to the main one.
Online dating is a billion pound industry. The Business of Online Dating was explored in an article in 2012 and is probably even greater today. I note in 2013 the formation of the Online Dating Association in the UK, although comprising board members and directors from the sites I had poor experiences from. I hope this is not just another scam to make themselves look credible.
Anyhow, here is what I experienced.
Process for Joining a Site
You create a profile, enjoy a free subscription, but then you soon realise you cannot browse and certainly not contact any suitors until you have paid a fee. So you generally chose the shortest time period – 3 months, which then automatically renews.
On one site, it was only after I’d paid – generally around £50 for 3 months – that I realised there were few people on the database, but it was too late and I’d lost my money.
So you’d search the internet for another site of suitable people. For example “Jazz lovers” seemed reasonable. “Classical music lovers” seemed reasonable. So I joined these two, created profiles, paid money, to then realise they were then same single database of fellas, run by the same parent company. In fact a third site I joined was also part of this, and some people I chatted to had subscribed to all manner of different websites (Single Dads, Guitar Lovers etc etc). Different website (front ends) all attached to one database – but you paid money to subscribe to each one.
TIP Look at the “terms” of the websites and you will probably find they are operated by just one or two large companies, Global Personals Limited in this case.
I also checked out the Times (The Dating Lab) and the Guardian (Soulmates) and fortunately before I paid money realised they too were the same database.
I did join Match.com as was promoted heavily at this time. Again I paid money, and although was at least a new and separate database of fellas from what I had seen elsewhere, there was very little in the way of any communication (either by an online message or email). What I didn’t know is that my profile would then be passed to affiliate company MatchAffinity.com, and this company too decided to start taking fees from my credit card registered with Match.com.
Trying to Unsubscribe
When I did start unsubscribing to the sites – I don’t want you to think I was a tart – but joining sites advertising my different interests seemed reasonable! When I did unsubscribe from Global Personals, I had to do three separate phone conversations with the same lady on the end of the phone, who would not admit at any point their websites were linked or indeed being misleading.
The mechanisms to unsubscribe are also reasonably well hidden on the sites and not at all transparent. It was not always possible to do so directly online, and other required several hours of waiting to get through on the telephone. I would imagine there would be quite a backlog of users who simply cannot get off these platforms.
The trouble really started months later when I thought that I’d cancelled subscriptions that additional payments were coming off my credit card from some of the affiliate sites. I phoned the bank and cancelled all the remaining payments. Looking back at my bank statements I probably lost something around £1500 over this time period.
Scams within scams
Moving beyond the unethical operations of the companies themselves, we can delve into a further layer of scams derived from the people participating. I’d suspected that many people on there did not exist, perhaps were put up there by their mates for a joke, and also were probably already married. By searching in my local area, in fact, there were people already in relationships, but that was their business. I was delighted to see Orlando Bloom on one occasion but he suddenly disappeared when I said hello.
Scams within scams within scams
Then we begin to read about the large-scale operations behind the scenes by employers of the agencies creating fake profiles. A dating agency in Scotland was creating fake profiles to encourage people to subscribe. In online dating platforms such as this, people are charged for sharing individual messages, and I certainly recall being charged extra to obtain someone’s email. At other times, the exchange of phone numbers and personal information was blocked by the platform so you could not contact the individual outside of the system should you so wish.
A further article in July 2013 alludes to the mass purchasing of stolen data for the creation of fake profiles. After reading Online Dating Sites Use Stolen Data I think you might agree that the entire industry is out of control.
But then came the fish men!
Not to leave the readers of this post in an unhappy state, there certainly were some highlights. I met someone who described themselves as an “organ impresario”. “Aren’t they all” I thought. But indeed he was a concert organist and a lovely individual, and we corresponded for some time. Also there was an extraordinary large number of fellas who thought it desirable to be photographed with large fish! One evening I had several possible fishy suitors; “fwar look at the size of my trout”. Of the few men I met in person it was surprising how many had lied about their height! And the crème de la crème – the number of fellas photographed dressed in tiger costumes kept my Facebook friends more than amused. “He’s grrrreat Viv”. “He’ll bring out the Tiger in you”. Fortunately I never got close enough to find out.
Want to go internet dating – here are my recommendations?
- Be extremely careful of these websites. Maybe use a site that you know a friend uses, and certainly if you are going to subscribe to more than one, look at the company details at the bottom of the page and make sure the parent company is not the same.
- Be cautious of everyone you are in contact with – can you verify they are for real?
- It goes without saying, be very cautious if you chose to meet up – have a friend nearby, or certainly let someone know where you are going. I did have one frightening experience believe me.
Article update 22nd December 2015
Well the extend of the dating industry scam has taken on new fishy dimensions more recently to my knowledge. An individual can join online dating and build social media profiles to falsely portray themselves. I suppose the more we readily share photographs, videos and recordings of ourselves these days, the more we are all at risk. Anyone can take this content and produce a false profile. Like bank fraud, I imagine there is a certain feeling of violation if they are photographs of you, or someone is using your personal details. The perpetrator will gain trust from different suitors and perhaps demand money who knows. For the suitor who may themselves be vulnerable, there will almost definitely be an emotional cost if not a financial one.
Here are two well explained articles on so-called ‘cat fishing’. Alan’s account in Catfishing is Not Love is horrible in that his persona has been used several times over possibly by one individual to create multiple false accounts. Alan has endeavoured to contact Facebook but this has not resolved the situation, so he has taken to promote his ‘real’ self online in the best way he can – No You Can’t Use My Photo.
Alec’s account of Identify Love and Catfishing is also dreadful in that it uses the identity of his family members also to create a credible story.
STILL want to go internet dating – here are more recommendations
I’m no expert but here is how you could check anyone out:
- If they have a Facebook or Twitter account – is it recent? Something set up in the past few months is a little suspicious these days.
- Is there much activity – tagging of photos or comments from other friends? Anyone who hasn’t had much ‘chatter’ with friends and relatives again is slightly unusual.
- Do a reverse image search – drag and drop the image into ‘Google Images’ and click the camera icon. Or see these instructions how to retrieve the image from elsewhere on the internet to verify it (https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/1325808?hl=en)
It still feels uncomfortable to think back over these experiences. It seems ironic that I met someone soon after that purely by chance on a boat sailing around Vancouver Harbour. He was 11 years younger and lived over 150 miles away. I’d never have found him by clicking a load of search boxes. And with permission…..