love

The dark side of online dating: Half of us are lying

By Kitty Knowles 4 February 2016
Half of Brits lie on their dating profile says Norton report. Pic: istock/Meriel Jane Waissman
Summary

Lies, scams, revenge porn. The world of online romance is far from rosy, suggests new report.

We’ve all done it, given a photo the once-over on Photoshop, or added the extra inch or an attractive hobby to a profile.

Well maybe not all of us. But around half of British online daters between the age of 18 and 34 admit to having told a white lie in their dating description, a new report from web security firm Norton reveals.

A nation of liars

Of over 3,000 people surveyed across the UK, France and Germany, 47% said they were likely to misrepresent their weight online, 50% said they’d be likely to misrepresent their physical appearance, and 48% said they’d lied about their interests.

Men are more likely to lie on their profile than women (51% to 45%), but as a nation we’re all pretty okay with telling porkies. Apparently, we Brits are more likely to lie about every category in the survey than our French and German peers, with the exception of income. (The Germans took the crown for that).

Illicit affairs

What’s more worrying, is that a large proportion of British daters have forged far bigger deceits.

Nearing half (43%) of people surveyed said they’d met a supposed singleton online only to find out they were in a relationship, and 19% themselves admitted to using online dating to start an affair (Ashley Madison much anyone?).

A shocking 28% of online daters also said that they’d been victims of catfishing (where someone assumes an identity that is completely different than their own), and 31% said they’d been asked for money or financial help by someone online, a common scam.

Often criminals might say they’ve been mugged in London, or been in an accident abroad and ask you to send them money, Norton experts explained.

“It is highly unlikely that anyone legitimate would ask for any kind of financial assistance,” said Tony Neate, CEO of government campaign group GetSafeOnline.

“Never be pressured into giving personal details like home addresses or card numbers. Don’t rush into things and report anything suspicious.”

Revenge porn

Catfishing isn’t the only way that criminals are using online dating to line their pockets. According to the research 28% of online daters said they’d been been threatened with revenge porn – where blackmailers threaten to make public racy images sent in confidence – and 12% said that they’d had suggestive, nude or semi-nude photographs posted online.

Nick Shaw, General Manager of Norton EMEA advised against sending anything explicit to avoid this.

“As with any relationship, trust is key and people should never share images or personal information before they are sure they can trust the person on the receiving end.”

“Ask yourself would your mum be happy if she saw what you posted, or your most conservative friend,” he told The Memo.

Read more: This company cleans up revenge porn, but at a cost

Emotional scars

Professor Monica Whitty, an expert in the world of cyberspace romance, said there were both financial and psychological costs to scamming.

“The psychological impact can sometimes outweigh the financial, even when large sums of money are lost,” she said. 

“It’s difficult to help a victim break away from a scammer once they have been ‘groomed’. My advice to online daters is to meet the person behind the profile within the first few weeks to ensure it’s an authentic profile. If that person makes excuses not to meet then move on.”

Case study

One woman called Jo told us about her personal experience of the dark side of online dating.

She’d started chatting with a supposedly single man online, they met up and moved in together. He had very convincing stories about family members & situations, including that his uncle had died leaving him £20m. The couple started putting offers on houses.

Then Jo found out that everything was a lie: There was no uncle, no money. The man even had a secret wife.

The mother of two was left distraught, facing arrears on her mortgage, and saw the man turn up on the dating website again after all this… to scam others.

“It leaves scars that will never ever go away, and questions that will never be answered,” she told The Memo.

How can you date safe online?

It might sound like a scary world out there, but you shouldn’t let this put you off looking for love online.

Norton has detailed a number of tips (right) which range from thinking about what you’re posting online, to making sure you know who you’re talking to.

Daters are advised to look out for so-called ‘canned’ responses from automated bots, to be wary of requests for financial aid, and to use reputable sites. The company also suggests you use makes calls using Google Voice so that you don’t have to give out your telephone number before you are entirely comfortable.

Norton also offers tips to follow when making your dating profile, such as never using your real name or personal email.

You should also always use a known and reputable dating site, and you should check the privacy policy to be sure that they won’t misuse your data.

Common sense can go a long way, but sharing your experiences should help to keep you on the right track.

“I would always recommend speaking to family or friends if there are any doubts, just to get a second, more objective opinion,” said Neate of GetSafeOnline.