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When Boko Haram kidnapped a group of school girls last spring, Winchester said, dating profile fakers would claim to be there abroad as part of a US special forces mission.
In reality, they were Nigerian con artists, hoping to be sent money to pay for a flight they would never take.“The sad reality is that the most effective scammers will tend to be the human beings who build trusting relationships over a long period of time with their targets,” says Winchester.
The result, Scamalytics, is a company that’s able not only to identify a number of key profile traits—in the “low hundreds,” says Winchester—but to measure how they play against one another for a more complete picture of who’s real and who’s swindling.“Features that in isolation may not give you too much information, in combination become much more powerful,” says Winchester.
“We then take the learnings from that academic exercise, and try to scale them up into a production environment that works at enormous speed.”Some of those indicators are proprietary, but a few are fairly obvious.
“But the operator of the bot is collecting payments for generating downloads, without ever having to interact with the user themselves.”If someone’s going to fall for a fake profile, that’s about as innocuous a result as one can hope for.
On any given day, a handful of those pleas still file into your email’s spam folder.The most popular con-man profile text in the UK, for example is “so please i want you to get back to me here with your email address so that i can send you my pictures so get back to me thanks.” Hard to imagine swiping right on that.Quantity of text isn’t a great indicator, says Winchester, in part because of the growing popularity of bots.But most people wouldn’t blink if they saw it in a real person’s profile.Likewise, scammers use current events to provide cover stories that explain why they’re in, say, Nigeria.
The same rule of thumb with email scams applies to online love, though; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.