Match in the hotseat

A woman is suing Match.com over her alleged sexual assault by a man she met on Match. You can read the article here. I don’t know the details, but the alleged assailant has had sexual assault charges filed against him in the past. How responsible is Match for this woman’s assault?

I’m no fan of Match, but one could argue that “Jane Doe” could or should have done a background check before going on a second date with the man or letting him into her house. On the other hand, if Match had done its homework, maybe the guy wouldn’t have been on the site in the first place. It will be interesting to see how the suit plays out.

Of particular interest to me is the renewed spotlight on Match and its refusal to do any screening of its members. Unfortunately, it takes a lawsuit to get them to take some responsibility for what they’re selling. An article in today’s Los Angeles Times says that Match, in the wake of the suit, has decided to start checking its members against a national sex offender database. (Read the article here.)

This is progress, I think. It’s not enough, of course; such screening should be required of any online dating site, particularly one that charges for membership. Dating sites should also, as I’ve said before, be required to run face recognition software on submitted photos to weed out photos that are used by scammers in multiple profiles. It’s going to take more scrutiny and more customers expressing their dissatisfaction via lawsuit to get Match’s full attention. Still, this is something, and other companies will likely follow where Match, the industry giant, leads.

It’s sad that such progress comes at the cost of a sexual assault. And sad that emotional assaults, like the one I experienced, don’t seem to matter at all to Match.

It’s the little things.

In perhaps an overabundance of caution, I changed all my Internet passwords in the wake of my romance scammer experience. I didn’t know whether my computer had been hacked or what else he might try to do to me and frankly, I was scared.

I had been using the same passwords for years, which was maybe not so smart. They were overdue for a change anyway. But now, every time I log in to the Websites I frequent, I have to enter the new passwords and I’m reminded — AGAIN — of what that despicable creature did to me, and I feel a little jolt of anger.

An easy fix, I suppose, would be to have Firefox remember my passwords. On the other hand, maybe it’s better to have those little reminders to keep me on my toes, lest I’m ever tempted to let someone get close to me again.

Mysterious Match.com

I got an e-mail from Match the other day. The subject line was “He noticed you!” I was instructed to log in to find out who “he” was.

I canceled my subscription to Match months ago. If my profile has been deleted, as Match claimed it would be, how was “he” or anybody able to notice me?

Match has been accused in the past of displaying profiles of people who were no longer members in order to falsely bolster its membership numbers.

Did they leave my profile up? Wouldn’t put it past them.

Read more here about consumer complaints against Match.com

The power to isolate

The Internet is an amazing thing, ain’t it?

The connections you can now make which were impossible before! The ability to keep in touch with people all over the world, in the click of a button. Email! Chat! Webcams! Skype! You can find a forum for any–ANY–interest you might have, regardless how obscure or unsavory it may be. The Internet. It’s a miracle. The power to CONNECT.

… and the power to isolate. My daughter and I were discussing this the other day. Online relationships can make one forget to nurture the real, flesh-and-blood people in one’s life. The Internet as a communication channel is weak; chat and email, VERY weak. In order to really communicate, we need sights, sounds and even smells to accurately interpret what’s being conveyed.

Alas, sometimes we forget that. And this forgetting provides romance scammers with just the loophole they need–we get so caught up that we fail to notice what’s missing, i.e. a real, actual human being in the flesh, for ALL our senses to evaluate in the process of making  judgment.

Looking back, I realize it’s impossible to truly know someone over the Internet. Even if everything else were perfect, what if upon finally meeting Mister Right, we discover he has horrible teeth, really bad body odor, offensive tattoos, odd nervous tics, an embarrassing laugh…? There are any number of things which, if we’d met in person to begin with, might have nipped the relationship in the bud. Wouldn’t it be awkward, after someone has gone to the trouble and expense of a long journey just to meet you, noticing a mannerism you just can’t stand? “Thanks for coming all this way, but I really couldn’t date someone who has dirty fingernails/swastika tattoos/wears cowboy boots/has halitosis/insert other buzzkill attribute here.”

An entire generation is reaching adulthood never having known life without electronic communication. Imagine that! Those of us old enough to remember Life-Before-Internet should know better; and yet, women my age are prime targets for online dating scammers. I wonder if the younger generation has become enured to the Internet’s empty promises. Perhaps they’re cynical enough to avoid falling for professions of love from people they’ve never met. I hope so.

It would be good to remember that the Internet is just a tool, and no substitute for interactions with real, live humans. Sadly, I think a lot of people forget that; or they’re so isolated already that any interaction is better than none. I remember how thrilled I was every time I found a new email from my scammer.

So yeah. Does the Internet bring us together? Increase our isolation? Both?

The “What the…?” File

It’s not like I haven’t been through grief before. I’m not even sure I should categorize this as grief. That’s sort of the problem.

I’ve lost loved ones. It’s a side effect of remaining alive–the longer you do it, the more dead people you know.  I’ve lost a parent; a sibling; a nephew; grandmothers. Close friends, not-so-close friends, customers. Beloved pets, even. None of it easy, but all of it easily identified as grief.

And I’ve lost relationships too. Been the dumper; the dumpee. Again, not fun, but I know where to file these events in my mind.

Not so with romance-scam-victimhood.  The filing system in my psyche contains no folders with this label! Or anything close, really.

So I struggle with that. In my experience, If I’m able to organize my experiences under certain categories, I’m better able to get through them. Even after all these months, the only label that seems appropriate for what happened to me is “What the F***?” And I don’t have a file for that.

I swear I’m not making this up.

Match.com’s online account deactivation wasn’t working yesterday. I ascribe an ulterior motive: if it’s not easy to cancel your account, maybe you won’t do it, then the renewal date will come up, then Match will charge your credit card another sixty bucks with no advance warning. Or maybe they want you to have to cancel by phone, so they can offer you a modest discount for renewing and talk you into staying on the site. In any case, once your account has renewed, you have three days to cancel or you’re stuck, with the following two exceptions:   1. you become so disabled that you can’t use the service; or 2. YOU DIE. Seriously–that’s their policy!

So I closed my account by phone yesterday, after which I received an email asking me to complete a short resignation survey. On the second screen of this survey, you choose one of several reasons for having left Match. I chose “other”, and in the description box, wrote “too many scammers.” Short and sweet. Continued to the next page, which said:

Met someone on Match.com.  Congratulations! Can we contact you for a followup interview?

I tried several times to page back and choose something other than “I met someone on Match.com.” No dice– the next screen ALWAYS congratulates you for having met someone.

It’s official: my entire experience with Match.com has been surreal.

So long, Match.com. PS: You suck.

I canceled my Match.com subscription today.

One of Match.com’s many irritating practices is that once you subscribe, they automatically renew your subscription, i.e. charge your credit card again, with no advance warning.  A site with more integrity might send you an email warning that your subscription is about to renew. But hey, we’re talking about Match, not integrity.

My term ends soon so I went online to cancel. Before doing so, I went to my home page to see what was new, and LOOK who recently viewed my profile!

A scammer using the photos of my beloved “Steve” and much of the same verbiage in his About Me.  What a great sendoff, right? In case I didn’t remember why I was leaving Match in the first place.

The online cancellation feature wasn’t working (as a Match hater, I’m almost tempted to suspect this is intentional), so I had to call them instead.

The sweet young woman who assisted me seemed genuinely shocked that I had encountered a scammer on the site. She offered well-rehearsed platitudes about how there are bad people out there and it’s impossible for Match or any dating site to screen them all out. She told me she knows there’s someone out there for me, she knows I’ll eventually meet my match, and she offered me a 30% discount on a subscription renewal. (Thanks, but no.)

She took the screen name info of the above scammer and assured me she’d be forwarding it to the “resolution team.” I had already reported the profile online, and as far as I know, all Match does with reported profiles is delete them. Some resolution–the scammer just creates a new account with a different screen name and the same pictures.

Which is a pet peeve of mine. The same pictures?! Photo recognition technology exists–it’s used in databases on Websites like RomanceScam and Stop-Scammers, which are devoted to exposing online dating scammers.

Seriously: FREE sites are using this technology, but Match, which charges money, is not.  Now, why might that be? It couldn’t possibly be that it’s more lucrative for Match to omit this step, right? If Match bothered to do even minimal screening, maybe it wouldn’t need a “resolution team”.

But again, I’m thinking integrity, a word that doesn’t apply to Match.

The only way Match will change its practices is if enough people complain about it, or better yet, refuse to use the site. Gotta hit ’em in the pocketbook, because that’s the only language they speak.

So yeah, adios, Match. PS: You suck.

I’m not okay, I promise.

So I haven’t blogged lately.

In the immediate aftermath of what happened to me, I found that blogging was therapeutic. I felt more or less compelled to write about it and share the story. After a while I stopped feeling that way–it began to feel like I was wallowing in it, thinking too much, and I decided that was probably unhealthy. So I decided to take a short break, which has turned out to be longer than anticipated.

I was getting on with life (I told myself). Moving on. In a way, every moment I spent thinking about my experience was another victory for my scammer. I couldn’t have that; he’d won far too much already. So I mustered up some self-discipline and stopped thinking.

I’d like to be able to report that that worked, but it didn’t. I’m still not myself. Sure, I’m surviving: I can more or less tackle the activities of daily living. I go to work, feed the cats, do my laundry, put gas in my car; on that level, I’m okay.

But no, overall I am most definitely not okay. The other day I came across a picture. I thought I’d deleted all the scammer’s pictures from my various electronic devices, but I missed one, and suddenly there he was–the guy I thought loved me and couldn’t wait to meet me, the face I imagined while I chatted with my scammer and talked to him on the phone. Just one look at that photo, and I was right back where I was three months ago: devastated.

I was operating on the premise that since the relationship wasn’t real, a grieving process wasn’t necessary. Turns out I was wrong about that, and grief, true to form, has popped up again. Grief doesn’t go away; it just waits till you’re ready for the next step in the process. So yeah: I just realized I’m grieving. Yay.

I guess there’s another reason I haven’t blogged or talked about this lately: embarrassment. Again, since it wasn’t real, I should just bounce back, right? It’s not like I actually lost a boyfriend. It’s not like anything real happened… Get over it already, I’ve been telling myself.

The trouble is that I can’t seem to do that. The trouble is, as much as I’ve wanted to minimize it, this was huge. The truth is that I’m grieving a loss, and I’m nowhere near finished with it.

I guess it’s actually good news that I’m depressed, because as the experts say, depression is the fourth of the five stages of grief–next stop, acceptance.

I can hardly wait.

The cruelest con.

A recent issue of Reader’s Digest included an article about seven kinds of online scams and how to avoid them. The romance scam is last on the list, and is labeled “the cruelest con.”  I agree.  

Let me tell you something: whatever the ramifications of being a crime victim, the coping process is far more difficult when you’re also coping with a broken heart.

Reader’s Digest’s article is good as far as it goes–the more people are aware of the scam, the fewer will fall for it–but its bottom-line advice falls short:  “…if someone you know only from the Web asks for money, sign off quickly.” Sigh. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. It isn’t just about the money!

My scammer waited a month and a half to ask me for money. In that time, through countless chats, emails and phone calls, I fell in love with the guy.  My initial suspicions and reservations had been put pretty much to rest–I’d stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it did, it dropped hard. It wasn’t just love but all that goes with it: trust, respect, hope… these are the things my scammer stole from me; these are the losses I’ll remember.

It’s not enough to tell people to end contact when someone asks for money. Avoiding a romance scam means taking action long before the scambag gets to your pocketbook. RD’s better advice: you can’t be too paranoid. Ask EVERY question, demand every answer, Google everything, suspect everything. A real person will understand your caution and if they don’t, they’re not worth your time–or your heart.

ScammerSpeak 101: Am Michael by name.

I’m no expert, but in my experience (and that of many others), scammers talk funny.

They have an interesting way of putting words together.  “Am Michael by name.” Who talks like that?  “Am _____ by name” seems to be a unique Africanism, and a phrase commonly used by African scammers. My original scammer often asked me, “What time is it by you?” I thought that was cute at the time, but now I wonder if that’s an Africanism too.

Here’s an email from a scammer I’ve been toying with lately:

Thank you very much for the respond to my email I really do appreciate it a lot.Well,I did hid my profile because am leary of the internet and people not being who they seem so I decided to hid my profile moreover,you are the only woman am interested in.I’d a wonderful day.How about you?I hope to hear back from you soon…

Again I ask: who talks like that? Scammers, that’s who. They also seem to use ellipses (…) a lot.

Here’s another email excerpt, again with funny/awkward phrasing and poor grammar.

If you would like to meet me in person but I have schedule a business meeting  with my client and that would keeps me busy.

This man claims to have been born and raised in California, but the way he writes indicates otherwise. I might find his butchery of the English language amusing if his ultimate goal weren’t to separate me from my money. It’s interesting that he thinks his English is good enough to fool me.

Want more? Here’s email #3:

First and foremost,I was so overwhelm after reading through your email…It brought so much joy in me.Any way,how are you doing?I hope all is well with you.I total agree with you.I mostly got booted when ever i try to log into im.

No you are not being pushy.I really like how are eager to meet me in person…Honestly,it’s just hard to get to know someone through email but its just that our schedules don’t match so its difficult to pinpoint the exact time to meet.Am stuck in a schedule meeting that would  held this weekend

It’s very urgent!I promise you I will fixed a date for our meeting.I would like to solicit how we can have a chat.I would be available just schedule time I could meet you online.I hope to hear back from you soon…

A common move among scammers is to copy excerpts from other people’s dating profiles and past them into emails. So you’ll be reading near-gibberish, and then you’ll find a grammatically correct sentence  or two.

It’s not always as obvious as it is with this guy. “Steve,” the guy who scammed me, was a smooth talker. His emails were pretty well-written, and he was quite charming. He was somewhat less articulate in chats, but he attributed this to typing too fast (and I bought it). And on the phone, he was great. His accent was thick, but his voice was lovely, and he spoke intelligently, passionately, humorously…

At least I can take small comfort in knowing that the scammer I fell for was good at his job.

He never once said, “Am Steve by name.”

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