How To Spot An Online Faker

Bob Leggitt | Saturday 12 November 2011
There’s little more amusing online than a man posing as a lesbian, chasing round after a ‘hot bisexual babe’, who turns out to be his uncle. But rarely are both parties in these interactions so equally deserving of such a comeuppance. Usually, the online faker deludes or defrauds ‘innocent victims’, using the faceless nature of the Internet to create a mightily impressive persona. The persona of someone successful, with good looks, cash on tap, talent… The purpose may be to gain attention, or to gain money, or to gain access to private info – perhaps even access to someone’s personal life. But whatever the intention, online fakery needs to be recognised. How to spot an online faker? Here’s my take…

I’m fascinated by what some people claim on the internet, and even more fascinated by what some people believe. The world wide web is a medium in which anyone can claim to be anyone they please. They can claim to have any career, be any sex, and be any age… They can claim to be seriously ill, or have very high status, fame, fortune – it’s a free-for-all… Typed words (provided the spelling and grammar is reasonable) look broadly the same whoever types them. And the power of a profile pic to somehow represent the person who’s typing those words can be very strong. But the effect is an illusion, should always be regarded as such, and by default, nothing anyone says should be believed.

Online fake

Many phrases are overused on the web. “LOL”, “get a life!”, “WTF?”… But one which in my opinion isn’t used anywhere near enough, is “reality check”. A reality check is simply the process of looking at a situation without the bias of your own interests, and asking yourself whether it really makes sense from the viewpoint of everyone involved. When it doesn’t make complete sense, the overwhelming likelihood is that someone’s lying. There’s a particular type of reality check which works extremely well on social networking sites and forums. It simply asks how much time a given person spends using the site, and, if they were telling the truth about who they are, whether they wouldn’t have better things to do.

For instance, is a '22-year-old girl' who looks like a top model in her profile pic and is apparently in a newly (and conveniently secretly) signed girl band really going to have nothing better to do than desperately tweet strangers for five hours on a Saturday night? Is a ‘premiership footballer’ really going to be spending a whole evening on Facebook grovelling around after ‘young women’ (who may not even be women, let alone young), when he could simply go out to a club and have a wealth of gorgeous (not to mention real) females throwing themselves at him? Broadly, if you're the type of person who will inevitably have lots and lots of real life friends, why on earth would you need to message strangers, and where would you find the time?

These are quite obvious exaggerations, and normally with online fakers it’s more subtle. On forums, for example, it's common to find individuals falsely claiming to be lawyers, business moguls or doctors to add weight to their (frequently idiotic) replies. But however subtle the instance, the rule holds. Attractive and/or successful people have lives. So if someone’s spending hours on sites each day fraternising with people they don’t know from Adam, without any commercial gain to be made, you can pretty much bet they’re neither attractive nor successful – whatever their profile pic looks like. A business mogul is not, in all honesty, going to have time for, or in any way care about, settling petty arguments on obscure forums. The very reason business moguls have become business moguls is that they don't give away their insight and knowledge for free on forums! The dynamics of this change if someone's socialising with a view to doing business, but if the interaction is purely social, and someone’s spending six hours a day on a networking site telling everyone how hectic their 'fast lane' lifestyle is, face facts – it’s fantasy.

What surprised me perhaps more than anything else about some of the people who are taken in by online fakers, is that they can tell the faker they’re not convinced by the story, and then still be persuaded that the story is true! They have suspicions which are sufficiently strong to provoke often quite embarrassing questions, and yet they then let the faker reassure them, with no evidence whatsoever, that everything’s above board!

This could quite easily become a mountainously long piece, but I’m going to try and keep it relatively brief and to the point, by summarising the top ten main points I believe people should focus on when assessing the claims they see online. Here are the most salient and important tips for use in recognising online fakers….

1. Apply the ‘would this person not have something better to do?’ test! This cuts across all the peripherals and gets straight to the core of the reality check process. If someone’s spending time you wouldn’t expect them to have available, in pursuit of friendships or relationships you wouldn’t expect them to need to search for, then something doesn’t add up.

2. Who’s chasing whom? Successful and attractive people do not have to chase around looking for potential friends on the web. The whole meaning of the word ‘attractive’ is that others are drawn to the person in question. If the person who ‘looks the most beautiful’ and ‘has the most going for them’ is the one doing all the pestering, then once again, it doesn’t add up.

3. Be guided by your instincts. If you’re in any way suspicious about what someone’s telling you, there’s a good reason for it. You’re not stupid. Don’t let a faker persuade you that your suspicions are “silly” or “paranoid”. A lifetime of experience has gone into those suspicions you’ve formed. Trust them. In almost all cases they’ll be right.

4. Ignore all pictorial indicators, including, and especially in relation to, profile pics and avatars. It’s the easiest thing in the world for an individual to put a photo of someone else on their social networking or forum profile. I’m not saying no one has their own photo on their avatar, because that’s obviously not the case. I’m just saying there’s no reliability whatsoever with a pictorial reference in the online world. And you should be acutely aware of how powerful a picture is in attracting you to an individual online. For an easy means to expose the majority of fake profile pic users, see my How To Prove A Profile Pic Is Fake article.

5. Always keep in mind that what you want to be true, and what is true, are two very different things. We all want to meet really impressive people online and form relationships with them – albeit perhaps only virtual relationships. We also all want something for nothing, and if someone offers a route to quick or easy cash, it’s easy to drop barriers which, were we not being offered something so lucrative and exciting, would remain firmly in place. This is a particular problem when it comes to the Internet, because a lot of stuff genuinely is free, and that raises our expectations of getting something for nothing. But whilst software, media and information are often ‘paid for’ with the display of third party ads on the host sites, money is not free or easy to generate. Anyone who tells you it’s possible to legitimately make easy money, doing basically nothing, without committing some sort of investment (either financial or in terms of time/work) is lying.

6. Base your assessment of people on what they do – not on what they say. Can you find examples of, or independent references to, impressive things the person in question has already done? If someone’s telling you they’re about to do something very impressive, but you can verify no track record of them ever doing anything similarly spectacular in the past, then chances are they’re all talk. A large number of people who spend inordinate amounts of time shouting about what they’re going to do are ‘professional mouths’, and rarely if ever back up their talk with actions. Remember, actions speak louder than words – not the other way around.

7. Aim to match people’s claims with their demeanour. A large number of fakers give themselves away by behaving in ways which are completely alien to the role they claim to play in life. For instance, someone who claims he/she is a Public Relations guru, but who has the diplomacy of a dictator with ants in his pants. Again, this is connected with assessing what people do (in this case how they behave or express themselves), as opposed to what they tell you. A very common phenomenon in this area is that of people claiming to be highly educated, or to be working in roles which demand a rigorous education, but who can barely string together a sentence. The number of people I’ve seen claiming to have degrees when they can’t make themselves even vaguely understood on a networking site is ridiculous. More ridiculous still is the number of others who accept that these people do indeed have degrees!

8. On forums, fakers will often have multiple identities. Searching odd mannerisms or unusual spellings using the forum's search function can help to unearth who they really are. Some people have uncommon ways of expressing themselves and use words or phrases few other people use. Spelling mistakes can be very revealing, because some of them are virtually unique. Perhaps someone spells 'recountable' as 'recountabble', for instance. Some spelling mistakes are not only unique on the forum - they're actually unique on Google! If an unusual spelling occurs in three different accounts on a forum, but nowhere else on the entire Internet, you can be pretty sure those three different accounts belong to the same person.

9. Ultimately, it should be held in mind at all times that the prospect of becoming someone you’re not is incredibly alluring. People pay £thousands for cosmetic work which will improve their appearance. We know that for a fact. The online equivalent of this of course is uploading a fake profile pic. It takes seconds, it’s painless, and it doesn’t cost a penny. Are people gonna do it? Well, if people will go through agony and spend a fortune to get the real life version, you can be a billion percent sure that a hell of a lot more will go for the painless, instant and free version online.

10. None of the above even touches on the less common but still very real issue of individuals straightforwardly pretending to be a specific famous personality – committing a form of online identity fraud. The majority of fakers will steer clear of taking on specific identities, because it’s so inevitable they’ll be found out. But do beware of supposedly famous people doing things they clearly wouldn’t need to do were they genuine. Offering incentives for people to follow them on Twitter, for example, or trying to ask individuals they’ve never met out on dates.

This piece has been more focused towards ‘social scamming’ rather than financial scamming. My Scams, Why They Work, & How To Avoid Them article, and my Rip-off Detector address the issue of financial fakery.