Silicon Beach: Tech Keeps Scammers Out of Your Heart and Wallet

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The iDate 2010 conference descended on Miami Beach last month with trade professionals talking shop about the business of running dating sites. One of the topics that intrigued Silicon Beach was protection against scammers. How do you know if the person behind that profile is for real?

Last year, a local friend of mine received emails from three different women in England who had Googled his name after they realized the man courting them online was too good to be true. It turns out a fraud had adopted my friend's identity from information that was readily available on his blog and online social networks.

Identity theft at this level is ridiculously easy. For every vulnerable sucker who's just looking for love, there's a scumbag willing to play mind games for money using someone else's photographs and personal history.

How is technology helping those who aren't keen enough to smell

something fishy? After the iDate conference, Silicon Beach caught up with Max Anhoury, VP of sales

and marketing at Iovation, for an answer. Iovation is a pioneer in managing

online fraud and abuse. It's like a bouncer -- good at

catching douchebags before they get in the door.


site imposters come from all over the world, according to Anhoury, but

there's a significant number from Russia, Nigeria, the Congo, and the Ivory Coast.

"The fraudsters posts a profile, usually to

attract women," Anhoury says. "They build confidence.

They'll use a stolen credit card to upgrade their membership level.

They'll use the same card to send flowers or jewelry. And then

typically there's a story about how they've been abandoned and need

money wired."

In some cases, the process of emotional

manipulation can take weeks. Fraudsters are expert con artists, telling

would-be victims exactly what they want to hear. "Their profiles are

wildly misrepresented," he explains. "They will pick the looks and

attributes of whatever the victim is most interested in seeing."


it's not just one victim, and that's how they get nabbed. By examining

devices -- the computers from which fraudsters generate profiles --

Iovation can detect when something is amiss. "Fraudsters create many

profiles and use them to attract potential victims," Anhoury says. "And

these profiles have one common denominator in that process: the

computer on which they were initiated."


simply, Iovation can help a dating site by recognizing and

re-identifying a suspect computer, but it isn't exactly Big Brother.

Iovation's technology doesn't mine these computers for personal

information. Anhoury doesn't divulge exactly how they do it, but he assures that their techniques rely on information about devices that is publicly available. "It's more than just tracking

IP addresses," he explains. "It's IP on steroids."

Once a

computer is re-identified, the same schmuck who is trying to get money

out of a lonely heart somewhere might have a difficult time pulling a scam

elsewhere online. Iovation also works with other industries, such as

e-retail and financial services. "When we receive suspect devices,"

Anhoury says, "it basically means 'I don't want to do business with

this computer anymore,' and all our online communities can leverage

that information. We look at well over a billion transactions a year

and have a quarter of a billion devices on our database."


are wily, of course; it's big business and they have many tricks up

their sleeves to dodge fraud detection. But Anhoury claims technology

is always one step ahead. The statistics for dating sites alone are

staggering: "In the last 90 days, we have identified 67,588 different

instances of spam, over 30,000 scams and solicitations, over 13,000

profile misrepresentations, and over 5,000 cases of identity mining and


Identity mining is yet another reason to be paranoid.

It isn't just about somebody tricking your vulnerable heart into

sending money. You never know if the person wooing you online is searching for personal information about your family, preferences, or

past that could potentially help him or her hack a bank account. That hot

girl you're chatting with could be a fat criminal slob in a boiler


To protect the efficiency of fraud detection, Anhoury

can't divulge which dating sites are clients, but he does mention that

Iovation works with many customers, including leading international online dating


Paranoid much? Fancy technology alone is just one

part of staying safe. Would-be lovers seeking relationships online can

also protect themselves. Anhoury suggests keeping an eye out for these

red flags: 

  1. The pace of the relationship is going too fast without answers to tough questions.
  2. Somebody wants to take you outside of the community

    infrastructure too quickly. For example, moving onto Gmail instead of

    chatting within the site.

  3. Uncomfortable questions that might not be relevant to the relationship.
  4. Anything to do with cash.

Keep up with more online fraud detection news at Iovation's blog.

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