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2015 was a good year for online dating. According to the Pew Research Center, online dating lost much of its stigma in 2015, as nearly 60% of Americans agree that using sites like Zoosk, Match.com, and Tinder is a great way to meet people. Pew also discovered that 5% of married individuals report having met their spouse online. And while 5% doesn't seem like a lot, that's still roughly 15 million online dating success stories. A refreshing number.
That being said, online dating in 2015 offered a wide spectrum of stories, from incredibly heartwarming to seriously devastating. And while there are thousands and thousands of online dating stories and blunders, we're only touching on the highlights:
Women of a Certain Age
You might be surprised to find that 17% of adults 45 and older have used online dating sites or apps, including 3% of adults 65 or older. Unfortunately, senior citizens remain one of the biggest targets of online scam artists and identity thieves. And online dating is no exception. According to a report from NPR, the FBI estimated that Americans lost more than $86 million through online dating scams. For such a large sum, you'd think the scam would be pretty complicated, but it's actually fairly simple:
Scam artists will search the online dating site for and reach out to single women in their 50s or 60s. Communication will come in the form of personal messages, emails, text messages, phone calls, and in at least one case, a flower delivery. Once the constant stream of communication has secured an emotional connection (which, for individuals who are craving companionship, is a surprisingly short amount of time) the subject of money naturally comes up. In one case, the scam artist said he was out of the country, all of his credit cards had been stolen, and he needed money for a ticket home. Before long, the scammer had duped his unsuspecting victim out of $150,000 - without ever meeting face-to-face. In another case on the other side of the border, Canadian police arrested nine men in connection to a online dating scam that extorted $1.5 million from their victims.
While online dating site owners are doing more to ensure that their users actually are who they say they are, there is always plenty of room for deception whenever the Internet is involved. Whenever you are dealing with someone you don't know online, learn as much about that person as you possibly can. Look them up on social media, or run their photos though a Google reverse image search to make sure that their information is unique and not copy-and-pasted from somewhere else.
The second thing is, don't reveal too much about yourself in your communications. Con-men build their case on what they know about their mark (you). This means avoid subjects like how much money you make, your home address, or even your last name. This information can be used against you in the wrong hands.
Last of all, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES CLICK ON EMAIL LINKS YOU RECEIVE FROM THE OTHER USER! This could be the most devastating mistake of all. These links could contain malware, ransomware, or other viruses that will cripple your computer, and put your life on hold.
The Fake Online Dating Profile that Landed Someone in Jail
As mentioned above, the Internet always presents the opportunity for deception. For instance, there's a scheme known as "catfishing" in which a user will create a fake online dating profile, often using images or information that has been stolen from somebody's social media profile. In the case of two Florida woman, deception in online dating became a punishable offense for one, and potentially life-threatening for the other.
Her disgusting scheme involved setting up a fake dating profile for a woman in a neighboring town - without that woman's knowledge. According to the profile, the 25-year-old victim was soliciting men to come to her home and "rape" her as part of a role-playing fantasy she sought to act out. When men reached out to Tapscott's fake profile, Tapscott provided them with the address and phone number of the victim.
Thankfully, the victim of this awful digital attack was not assaulted, contacting the police when men came knocking at her door. Tapscott was arrested in late 2015 for aggravated stalking.
The Internet is not Las Vegas: what happens online does not always stay online. And while you may not necessarily be able to stop people from using your name, your profile pictures, or other information, you don't have to let it ruin your life. As mentioned before, you can always run a reverse image search on Google to make sure your photos aren't being used by someone you don't know.
Revenge Is Best Served Cold . . . and with a Side of Catfish
On a lighter, and less creepy note, one victim of fraudulent online dating took matters into his own hands. Username SamIAmnt was determined to fulfill one mission: "RETRIBUTION."
The 27-year-old Brooklyn resident's path to justice began when he accidentally left his phone in a cab. Unfortunately for SamIAmnt, the driver stole the phone and began sending strange messages via SamIAmnt's OKCupid profile. Unfortunately for the cab driver, SamIAmnt is smart. Rather than shutting down his profile, or canceling his phone service, SamIAmnt created a fake profile of his own: Jennifer. "Jennifer" then reached out to "SamIAmnt" on the online dating site, eventually inviting him over to her apartment for some wine. But when the unsuspecting imposter showed up to the address he received, no one was there, but the original SamIAmnt. In the end, he got his phone back, and his retribution to boot.
Don't mess with SamIAmnt. He's like the Liam Neeson of online dating.
The Pen Is Mightier than the Pinhead
Most if not all women with an online presence are no strangers to online harassment of some kind or another. Such was the case for Anna Gensler, who in 2015 decided she had had enough of the flurry of vulgar comments she was receiving on OKCupid and Tinder. In response to the dozens of creepy comments she was receiving, Gensler put pencil to paper and sent nude drawings to her harassers - of themselves - skimping out on certain anatomical features important to insecure men who have nothing better to do than to bother a stranger online. The drawings themselves are ridiculous and hilarious, though probably not safe for work.
Two lessons here: first, if you're a guy and want to get into the world of online dating, may you avoid starting the conversation with vulgarity. Believe it or not, women don't like it. In fact, when we ran a survey among over 1,000 online dating site users, the most important feature among our female respondents was the online dating site's "Report/Block User" feature. Meanwhile, the most important feature among our male respondents was the "User Verification" feature, which brings up an interesting point: guys, if a girl responds favorably to your online vulgarity, chances are she's not who she says she is.
The second lesson to the menfolk: don't mess with Anna Gensler, or other smart, creative women online.
The Ashley Madison Hack
Perhaps one of the most talked about data hacks of 2015 had nothing to do with government IDs, corporate espionage, or the loss of money, but about a very unusual online dating service - one NOT reviewed on BestCompany.com. In the summer of 2015, Ashley Madison, an online service which helped married people carry out secret extra-marital affairs experienced a major hack that compromised the private information of over 36 million users. Anonymous hackers warned the executives at Ashley Madison that if the site was not shut down, they would release the information of the site's users. When Ashley Madison called the hackers' bluff, the hackers spilled the beans.
The fallout from this data breach was messy to say the least. Ashley Madison's parent company Avid Life Media was sued for $567 million; users' information was held ransom by extortionists; less than 1% of the registered female accounts were actually used by real women; thousands of government and military email addresses were discovered in the breach; at at least two suicides were reported in connection to the hack. Needless to say, there were no real winners from this act of hacktivism.
The Internet can be used for almost anything. That doesn't mean it should be used for almost anything, especially when you're operating a service that most people would consider morally wrong.
Keep Your Enemies Closer
Finally, on a more heartwarming note, an online dating experiment that tested the theory "opposites attract." Unique to OKCupid is something called the enemy rating, which measures the unlikeliness that you and another user would be compatible. So when Zach, a BuzzFeed staff member reached out to one of his "enemies" on OKCupid, he anticipated disaster; however, after some initial awkwardness, he and his date were both surprised to find that they had quite a bit in common. Click the link to see the video of Zach's first date.
The online dating world is full of surprises, some terrible, and some that make all the frustration worth something in the end. If one of your New Year's resolutions for 2016 involves getting yourself out there a little bit more, just remember that online dating isn't all about the creeps who aren't who they say they are; there are good people, real people, who just want to make a connection. Take a look at some of our online dating site reviews and recommendations, and make 2016 your most exciting year yet!