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Expert breaks down online dating deception

MADISON (WKOW) — After a woman told police she was robbed at gunpoint by a man she met on an online dating site, experts are weighing in on the potential deception that exists online.

Catalina Toma is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She studies how people communicate online, and has recently been investigating self-presentation and deception in online dating profiles.

She told 27 News there are plenty of reasons why people might lie about who they are. It could be because they have dubious intentions, or that they are trying to make themselves seem more impressive than they think they might be in real life.

“If you’re interested in deception, you have more tools and better tools for lying [online] than you do face to face,” she said.

When you’re checking out a dating profile, there is a lot of speculation and inferring that must be done. The way someone sets up a profile can be a tell, Toma said. If they put more effort into the profile, it means they’re likely there for the right reasons.

There are certain cues that indicate someone may be misrepresenting their intentions. Online dating sites and apps are ripe for scams.

For instance, if someone shows a lot of affection before meeting in person or talking on the phone, that is a red flag. Also, if someone comes up with excuses to keep a match from meeting them, their friends, or their family in person, that could also point to a deeper deceit.

“You already should be suspicious if somebody is blocking access to this information,” she said.

Googling someone isn’t something to be ashamed of either. Toma said you can find social media profiles or websites that can confirm someone’s identity.

“I would urge everybody to think about, ‘What is the level of effort involve in manipulating something?'” she said.”If something is hard to manipulate, that would indicate it’s a pretty reliable symbol.”

She also recommends checking criminal records, if you have the person’s last name. Some dating sites and apps have the option to put a last name or initial.

All of that can be done before you meet someone in person. When you do meet, always make sure it’s in a public place where you feel comfortable.

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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