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How to Protect Yourself From Online Dating Scams


By Miroslav B. Bonchev
Since the theory of evolution became the predominant, official belief taught in the schools, the world has become a strange place with little love and much selfishness (survival of the fittest). As a result, whether for their own fault or not, many have difficulties to find their other-half and turn to online dating hoping that they will meet their soul mate there. Good or bad, effective or not, online dating exhibits some threats. The saying goes that "paper takes anything" and so does a web-page. Exploiting these circumstances, disingenuous "seekers" and scammers can easily register as many profiles on dating websites as they wish and cause much harm to possibly naive but genuine soul mate seekers.

In this article we will discuss a simple and very effective way to avoid scammers and filter out disingenuous members. This is not an absolute protection, but is capable of immediately filtering out the vast majority of scammers, and could save a person a lot of time and frustration and possibly quite a bit of money. It also could help to find out things about the person that one is interested in before even contacting them, and thus save the communication with members with which one would not be interested to talk to should they know this other information. Conversely, it can help one to recognize people with which perhaps they do want to get in touch.

According to some who have been engaged with online dating, most profiles there are not completely genuine, especially those which represent a pretty woman and sometimes a handsome man. In fact, using the method described here one will be able to confirm this observation themselves. Go to any gating website, especially the Russian and Ukrainian, and try the method on the photos of a few of the more attractive profiles. Often the person behind an attractive picture and amazing description is happy to communicate through e-mail but declines a video chat. That alone should raise major concerns. However, many times the approaching party may be desperate, or otherwise emotionally weaker, and thus they willingly give up their defense after receiving wishy-washy explanations such as: "I don't know you yet.", "I’m writing to you from an Internee cafe", or "my web cam is broken." Whether from desperation, or from unnecessary kindness, the approaching party, usually men, accepts this condition of the "pretty" party and allows themselves to become emotionally involved. Then it is only matter of time before they get ripped off emotionally, and often financially.

Although for a rational mind, explanations such as the above would almost certainly indicate insincerity and a very high degree of possibility that the profile is a scam, for a hopeful mind of a desperate male, flooded with adrenalin and sick of frustration, the risk that this "promising" virtual-reality may not materialize seems negligible and is often gladly accepted. To a mind in such a state of blind wishful thinking, is necessary to see clear, irrefutable evidence that the profile is a scam. This is in fact easy to do, and will show how in the next paragraph. Scammers have a weakness; they typically use pictures of other unaware people, which we will exploit using Reverse Image Search.

Reverse Image Search means that one supplies an image to the search engine and the search engine finds all places where that picture is found on the Internet that the engine knows of. One can upload the image or supply the URL (Internet address) of the image directly to the Reverse Image Search engine. Using such a service a man could be shocked to find out, as we were, that the amazingly beautiful, kind, intelligent, educated, sincere woman who could inspire most men, even those not looking, is in fact a prostitute registered on several websites for such services. A shocking example which we discovered while testing the idea and gathering material for this article. More often we encountered images of models and little-known, attractive, eastern European actresses who are presumably unaware that their pictures are being used by the scammers. Since search engines have only partial knowledge about the data on the Internet, it may be advisable to use more than one reverse image search engine and check all available images of any person in which one is interested. Of course even if negative evidence was not found, one should always use discretion and common sense. On the contrary, one may also find very positive information, for example discover that the person in which they are interested in has common interests with them, for example finding their blog and reading their work. Again, an example which did occur while researching the matter.

There are only a few good reverse image search engines for the moment, which are:

http://www.tineye.com
http://images.google.com

Reverse Image Search can be done manually and automatically. First, we will discuss a step by step guide for manual search.
Manual search:
  1. On the dating website:
    1. View the picture of the person in interest in its largest size, but search all available sizes of the picture if necessary.
    2. Right click on the picture
    3. From the browser's context menu choose "Copy image URL" (or the equivalent menu entry).
  2. On the Reverse Image Search Website
    1. Open a new browser tab and navigate to a reverse image search engine (e.g. one of the above).
    2. On TinyEye paste the image URL copied in step 1.3. into the search bar. On Google, currently one has to first click on the small camera displayed at the right hand side of the search bar and paste the image URL in the pop-up that appears.
    3. Click the search button
  3. Explore the results to find to whom the picture belongs and where it has been used as well as any history related to it.
  4. If there are no results shown, try other reverse search engines and possibly the other image sizes available.
Only for completeness, it worth to mention that if one has the image downloaded to their computer then they can upload the picture to the search engine, and perform the search in that way.


Automatic search: TinyEye and Google provide browser extensions, which if one installs, could be used for an automatic search directly from the dating website. If the browser extension is installed, one simply right clicks on the image they are interested in and chooses the "Image Search" option from the context menu which the browser extension has added. The browser typically opens another tab with the search results. One can find extensions for various browsers by following the links provided below:

http://www.tineye.com/plugin
https://support.google.com/images/answer/1325808?hl=en
* Note that Google, shame on them, do not provide extension for Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera and other popular browsers.

The following screen-shots demonstrate how easy and quickly we discovered a fake profile (most likely scammer) who is using the photograph of a beautiful woman. This becomes particularly clear if one follows one or two of the links returned by TinyEye and Google.

TinyEye ResultsGoogle Results
How to Prevent Unwanted Browser Refresh - TinEye Results How to Prevent Unwanted Browser Refresh - Google Results


Reverse Image Search does not guarantee that all scam will be caught and eliminated, but it can certainly be very helpful to both men and women who desire to find a meaningful relationship with a genuine person, and could save time, frustration and money. Since the issues discussed in this article are very much related to authentication, I am tempted to mention that for proper authentication one must use digital signatures, for which our software Act On File is the best candidate. Admittedly, it is difficult to apply it immediately, however it is very possible. Hopefully, one day we will be able to trust the online dating services "AS IS" because they would use digital signatures and other technologies such as the ones that we develop, and protect the genuine seekers who then would use reverse image search only as a research tool for positive information rater than for filtering out scammers.

Miroslav B. Bonchev
24-th June 2013
England
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