How To Detect Fake Online Dating Profiles & Catfishers On Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, Match.com. Tips & Clues in Photos, Preferences, Bios. Reverse Image Search.
Dating apps have come a long way since the early days of Match.com, Plenty of Fish and OkCupid. These days a fake online dating profile can be created in a matter of minutes during a commercial break of a TV show. It’s important to understand the business of dating apps, what they are, what they are not in addition to looking for red flags from users on dating apps as possible signs of fraud.
Depending on the app, anywhere from 1-5% of profiles can be fake, some sketchy apps this can be upwards of 20-50% of profiles. Additionally, many profiles can be inactive or merely seeking gifts, instagram followers or a penpal adding to the frustration that the total datable population of all profiles on any given dating site can be less than half.
Natural, Trusting Disposition Of People
With the rise in popularity of dating apps come a rise in scams, blackmail, deceit, catfishing and dishonesty in marital status and dating intentions. Many people read into dating apps too much thinking that people are always honest and that apps screen people frequently and exhaustively. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking To Strangers to see just how trusting people can be.
Greed, Fiduciary Responsibility By Dating Apps
Technology has enabled fake profiles to flood platforms to boost monthly average user (MAU) counts and corner folks into upgrading accounts to enable additional filters and see additional profiles. These user and revenue targets have led to dating apps to loosen up registration requirements and slow down reporting and deletion of fake accounts.
Most online businesses like to make registration processes as seamless and quick as possible while making downgrades, subscription cancellations and account deactivations as long and drawn out as possible
How Dating Apps Have Responded to Criticism
Apps like Bumble have done a good job of addressing the quality and safety at the top of the funnel by requiring users to mimic an action via a photo upon registration. Tinder has recently launched a softer screening process by enabling blue checks on verified accounts. Hinge is taking reports of users more seriously when activities offline (others apps, in person) and banning folks vigorously (even making it more difficult to register with a new phone, email, photos, IP address etc.).
Although identities are confirmed at registration, ages, locations, photo authenticity can be manipulated. Dating apps cannot prevent people from harassing others, assaulting dates, trying to get people click on a phishing link to steal identities etc.
How Technology Has Enabled Fake Profiles
Instagram, Photoshop, AI and Facebook has made it easier alter people’s photos, alter stock photos from the internet and gather information from user’s public social media profiles to create fake accounts or obtain their passwords and guess their security questions and answers. It’s easy to change faces, bodies and appearances with a few keystrokes.
Now that you have a little understanding of what apps have done, what they are not doing, here are some ways to detect fake profiles and those seeking to take advantage of you.
Why Are There Fake Profiles On Dating Sites
The apps don’t create fake profiles, people do. With that said, dating apps don’t always verify profiles nor are they quick to remove fake profiles. They rely on crowdsourced efforts (user feedback) primarily which is why profiles are up for a few days before getting flagged.
It’s up to users to flag profiles and flag them often. If you don’t, you are not helping the societal dating pool on dating sites like Hinge, OkCupid, Tinder, Match etc.
Reasons Why People Catfish, Scam & Lie
Most deceit, pain, embarrassment and crime on dating apps are aimed at controlling people, taking their money or done purely for absolute boredom, jealousy or insecurity. Understanding these multiple angles and reasons will help you to identify less obvious ways people might be using fake accounts to target you.
It’s important to proceed using dating apps with a sense of caution. Sometimes people are targeted at random as a part of a game, others might be by chance but many victims are those that show some vulnerability.
A number of people lie about having kids, their age, profession or location. These are the most common lies told on dating apps. Some people do it for security reasons (mentioning of kids) or profession (avoid stalkers) but names and age should be used (use a nickname). Don’t blame facebook or the app for not letting you update your age.
How To Spot A Fake Profile On A Dating Site
Suspicious Links & Phishing
One of the most popular phishing scams out there is a link sent by a match (typically after a few messages exchanged) to validate identity through a third party. These are dead giveaways of a scam.
Validation is typically conducted over time, with questions, and eventually meeting in person. Don’t click on any suspicious link as it can gain access to photos, messages, accounts, passwords and contacts. If someone is genuinely interested in making sure you are real, that person can wait. If he/she is pushy, that is either a sign of a scam or someone with severe trust issues.
Location, Age, Preferences, Looks
It’s one thing to keep an open mind about age and have aspirational targets for looks and other qualities but the further you deviate from your relative looks, lifestyle, age, location and attractiveness the more likely you will be target of catfishing.
If a woman or man who is significantly younger than you, located far away or is materially more attractive than you then you, chances are you might be overwhelmed by their looks and charm to notice the scam going on right in front of you. Take things slowly, never give away personal info, meet up in person in public settings before you start to let your guard down.
Few Photos, Limited Bio, Old Photos
Profiles with just one photo or some even with more photos but a limited bio and wide open preferences (particularly Match.com and OkCupid) should raise a red flag.
Some people will do some investigation beforehand by reverse-image searching photos* to verify profiles and identities but this is not always guaranteed or proof of identity. (All the more reason to not make your Instagram and Facebook proflies public to avoid identity theft by scammers).
To reverse-image search, go to: https://images.google.com/ and click the camera icon to upload the photo in question. Remove any borders any use the highest quality photo possible. Images on non-indexed pages like private Facebook accounts, password-protected sites will not be displayed as possible matches.
People with preferences with wide open age limits i.e. 40-65, people with height preferences of 4’4″ to 6’10” and profiles seeking people within 100 miles are giant red flags. For people in more remote areas, large radii are more common but pair those preferences with other clues mentioned here. It’s easy to get photos from a public Facebook or Instagram account these days.
Checking for catfishers or those using photos that are old is easy. Check Instagram, Facebook, Yelp or EXIF data on photos on their website or company page to see when photos were taken.
Video Chats, Moving Offline Away From Dating Apps
One of the common scams right now is getting matches to move conversations from dating apps to other messaging platforms or even video chats. Dating apps can be buggy no doubt but proceed with caution as reporting improper behavior is harder to do once you leave the dating app.
I typically recommend people don’t relinquish private info, contact information until after you have met and after you decide you want to meet again. With that said, video chats can be a great way to verify identities and save time from bad dates and possible catfishers. When possible, stay on the app for communication (text, calls and videos) until you meet in person and after you decide you want to see the person for date number two.
I wrote more about red flags with video chatting here but the main scams through video chatting is sexual acts captured on video and then uses recording this info to blackmail you by threatening to contact family, neighbors, colleagues or employers.
Love bombing is a method whereby matches overwhelm targets with flattering messages, attention, grand gestures in a rather short period of time, often times before even meeting in person. Some identities can include service men overseas for example. Prime targets are people who are a little older, show signs of depression, are divorced, widowed or share a little too much information online that is generally recommended.
Focus on actions, in person gestures rather than those who are the first people to make you feel good or wanted. Also, if the person is significantly younger than you or significantly more attractive than you or if the person asks not sure tell others about him or her, proceed with extreme caution.
Excuses, Short Vague Answers
Making excuses as to why one can’t meet in person or someone who repeatedly replies with short answers and never balances conversation intent with questions of their own is often a red flag. Many scammers are running the same lines with other people and often try not to get too deep in the weeds with details as to confuse targets. Superficial conversations or empty flattering messages are easy initiate without any thought.
Bank Account Info, Sob Story
There is never a need to divulge bank account info to a stranger, especially ones you have not met. This seems super obvious but dozens of people every day fall victim to scammers and give away account info, passwords or even provide loans to sob stories. Don’t lend money to people you don’t know, trust and have met!
Meet In Person, Don’t Over Invest Yourself Emotionally On Strangers
In general, you should learn to not over invest your emotions and vulnerability too quickly to someone online. Scammers move quick to filter out false-positives for possible scams. If someone is slow to respond, uses generic messages, tells you not to discuss him/her with others you know, give pause. People should not be use dating apps right after a divorce, death in the family or during depression.
Don’t assume dating apps will block bad people from registering on their sites and apps. It is up to you to be patient, ask questions and use good judgment. Honing in on your people reading skills to conduct your own background checks is an essential skill to acquire when online dating.
If you need help, ask friends. Scammers are good at hiding their tracks, don’t assume that you did a few Google searches that you are good to go. This is why clients hire me to perform extensive background checks on suspicious matches, dates and long-distant relationship partners.
How to Spot a Fake Match Profile
Match.com does a poor job of verifying profiles upon registration. Be wary of newly created profiles, profiles with only 1-2 photos, empty bios or modeling photos (pro-tip, you can sort profiles by how new they are, most blatant cases are deactivated within a week). Reverse-image search photos when in doubt.
You can possibly see if the person is real and a possible timestamp for when said photo was posted online. If the person seems too good to be true, proceed with caution. Given the older demographics of Match.com, there are more cases of love-bombing, phishing etc. on sites like this targeting those of older age, widowed, divorced etc.
Reporting Fake Dating Profiles
Every person has the responsibility to report fake dating profiles whether someone lied about their age, height or materially looks different from their photos. People owe it to each other to improve the dating pool for all.
Screenshot profiles, messages and conversations off the app. Some people might actually try to pre-emptively block you and report you to the app first to avoid being reported. Be concise in your contact (timelines, photos, details).
Verified Dating Profiles, Screening
Apps like The League go through extra steps to verify profiles that enter the platform by verifying other social media profiles and photos. Bumble offers a verification method for users to prove identity and receive a blue checkmark on their dating profile. The League screens all users with 3rd party data sources before approving profiles to go live on the app.
OkCupid asks an insane number of questions upon registration and is one of the apps that has banned my skeleton accounts created for reviewing client profiles on the site. Sites like Hinge, Coffee Meets Bagel, Tinder and Bumble have allowed me to create fake profiles without any problem thus far.
Please note these steps do not confirm age, height, location, gender, intention but merely verifies you are a real person. If you fail the verification process your profile will be turned off meaning you can’t see anyone and no one can see you. Typically this is a feature done at will by the user but can be required if your profile is reported as fake.
Tinder also has a verification process where it validates a profile is real but again, does not verify age, height, location, intent etc. – only a user can do this.
For additional tips regarding online dating safety and dangers to look out for read this post: https://eddie-hernandez.com/online-dating-safety-tips/
About Eddie Hernandez
Eddie Hernandez is a professional photographer specializing in natural, candid online dating photos. Featured in the SFGate, ABC7News, East Bay Express, Salon; contributor to Good Men Project, Plenty Of Fish and Meddle. In addition to photos, he provides guidance around app choice, bio optimization, messaging techniques, wardrobe advice and date ideas. https://eddie-hernandez.com/contact/
Dating Profile Critique
For those of you who are remote or virtual dating help and are looking for an online dating profile critique you can read more about my services here.
For other helpful online dating tips check out my blog for more helpful advice: https://eddie-hernandez.com/blog/
Online Dating Frequently Asked Questions (Photos, App Choice, Wardrobe, Messaging, Bios and More): https://eddie-hernandez.com/online-dating-frequently-asked-questions/
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