OPW INTERVIEW -- Nov 5 -- I talked with Mate1.com's CEO, Liz Wasserman on the subject of scamming. - Mark Brooks
What kind of scamming activity have you encountered at Mate1?
We've encountered a wide range of scamming activity. It's evolved over time partly, I think, because people in this industry have been pretty quick to adapt. Scams fall by the wayside as people adapt to them.
In the early days, almost all of it emanated from African countries that don't have laws against wire fraud. From what I could tell, the scammers basically set up call centers full of people who created thousands of fake dating profiles. They would pretend to be very attractive women in the U.S. who were "temporarily" in some African country and needed to get home. They would try to extort money via Western Union. We saw a lot of those, even from Eastern Europe for a while. We actually have a whole catalog of these schemes that we made available on the site (link: http://www.mate1.com/fraud/fraud_warning) because we wanted to tell our members what to look out for.
And then there are the ones you can't really prepare for because they're idiosyncratic. People who are looking for love can be some of the most vulnerable people out there. Anyone who has an attractive picture and can talk their way into someone's heart, basically can very often convince them to send some money. And those often tend to be minor scams, but we do catch them more often than not simply by having undercover customer service agents trolling the site all day long.
We've also used various technologies, like matching up IP's with locations to make sure people aren't misrepresenting where they are, but for the most part it's a matter of constant communication with our customer service department to find out what the latest thing is and to quickly adapt to it.
Have you found the number of scamming incidents increasing?
I think early on we developed a reputation as being tough on scams because it used to be one of our major preoccupations. It ate up a huge amount of our resources. And as we adapted and put in more technological mechanisms to prevent it, scammers who are in-the-know went elsewhere.
Have you found any ways to catch them pre-signup?
There are ways and a lot of them revolve around IP detection – knowing where the person is half the battle. There are certain areas that these people tend to congregate. We have a couple of mechanisms in place to try to shuffle out those people who are clearly suspicious. Luckily, scammers don't tend to be extraordinarily brilliant technologically, so we're able to outsmart them.
I hear the Russians are particularly adept.
We do catch quite a few in Russia and surrounding countries. Then there are some women in Russia who are borderline. You don't know if they're a scammer or just in a really bad situation and you have to be careful to distinguish between the two.
But, yes, they're highly intelligent and highly desperate so you have to watch out for Eastern Europe, for sure. I know there are sites that have blacklists which we do refer to from time to time. I don't know, though, if they're still as good as they used to be. They used to keep fairly up-to-date lists of these personas. There was one called Russianwomenblacklist.com. I think having central repositories that could be intranet shared by people in the industry would be really useful. You just wouldn't want to share it with the scammers.
Any other thoughts on how the industry might be able to work together?
I think people are pretty forthcoming with information in this business. Whenever you meet people at industry events, people like to talk and I think that's a great thing. Anything we in the industry can do to devote and share resources would, in the end, actually be money-saving for all of us. I think it would be great if we could all collaborate and help each other create the best anti-scam systems possible. I would certainly participate in such a thing.