Images by Marta Parszeniew
Most of us would like to be loved by another human being. On the whole, it seems like an effective way to put a cap on the volcano of sadness at the centre of our souls. However, not all of us find this process particularly easy. Firstly, there’s the being-loved bit. This requires the display of our personality to good effect, avoiding the phrase “send them back to where they came from” and nodding attentively during the gaps in conversation. Harder than it looks.
Then there’s the “another human being” part. Again, this is often harder than it looks.
Take what happened at the beginning of this month. Six men were convicted in Chichester Crown Court of defrauding nine women out of a total of £220,000. The women had all signed onto match.com on the proviso that they could use the site to meet a human male with whom they might share a duvet and bicker with in restaurants. They all subsequently met a "James Richards" and began a romance with him. But sadly, "James Richards" was not a human male. In fact, he did not actually exist, at least not beyond the hive mind of those six Nigerian fraudsters, who’d created an elaborate chain of documents and photos to give birth to an entirely fictional Casanova with a strange argot and a vast offshore fortune that – due to complex political reasons – he could only possibly access with the help of some woman he'd seduced on a dating website.
While most guides to romance concentrate on personal grooming, presents and how to fart in the cinema without offending a new lover, I decided to answer the one truly important question: How do you know if your lover is real? 1) ARE THE NAMES ON THEIR PASSPORT THE RIGHT WAY ROUND?
When James Richards asked his various online flames to wire him money, he sent them a copy of his passport as proof of identity. Confusingly, instead of "James Richards", the name on the document read "Richard James". James Richards is a man who doesn't exist. Richard James is Aphex Twin.
Oddly, none of the women involved in the match.com scam clocked that the first and last names of James Richards' passport had been switched. This should be the first warning sign. While the UK Home Office is capable of losing the personal details of millions of people, it is usually really, really good at getting your first name and last name the right way round on your passport.
2) ARE THERE LOADS OF PEOPLE WHO LOOK EXACTLY LIKE YOUR LOVER ON THE SAME DATING WEBSITE?
Yuliana Avalos was part of a "huge" group of actors, military personnel and Facebook users that filed a $1.5m dollar lawsuit against match.com late last year. The model from Miami did so after allegedly calculating that more than 200 profiles on the site used her picture. She accuses match.com of knowingly approving false profiles for spammers in order to make their pool of users as vast as possible.
So, if you ever find yourself scouring the internet for a soul who can bear to share the same night air as you, make sure they don't seem to have the exact same physical features, clothes and holiday snap selection as another human being.
If they do, it is likely that one or both of these people – or all 200 of them – do not exist.
3) DOES YOUR LOVER TREAT FLIRTING LIKE A TEXT ADVENTURE GAME?
Text adventure games are great. You face east. You see a large wooden door. You walk towards the door. You pick up a remote control. You must imagine yourself being burnt to death by a dragon. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the thrill of that? But when your love life starts to resemble one of these escapades, things can quickly take a turn for the sticky. We hear a lot about the "gamification of dating" inherent in things like Tinder. Really, the James Richards case was just a level up from that.
James Richards’ continuing quest to "secure an inheritance" of "£100 million" (which would have made him approximately as rich as Harvey Weinstein) meant that his nine victims were effectively all playing High Stakes Goose Chase from the comfort of their respective computer rooms. Every so often, Richards would drip-feed them updates on his situation, which we now know were entirely fabricated.
The trail of documentation expanded as Richards worked his way through the narrative stages. The passport. The solicitor’s letters. The Indian affidavit guaranteeing the cash but misspelling "pounds sterling" as "pounds starling". You take the affidavit. You are in a room. You are facing east. Behind the desk an Indian bank manager is withholding the money until he receives his fee. Press (a) to pay the fee. Press (b) to walk away forever from a rare beacon of reciprocal love. Not a great game, all told.
4) DOES YOUR LOVER EMPLOY A FIRM OF SOLICITORS CALLED "QUALITY SOLICITORS"?
On a recent trip to St Albans, I walked past a Shoreditch-y hair salon called "Alternative Barbers". I have no idea what kinds of mind-blowing haircuts Alternative Barbers are giving people up in St Albans but generally speaking businesses that have to put a descriptor in their own names seldom live up to their promises. Case in point: the legal firm "acting on behalf" of James Richards: Quality Solicitors.
Personally, I’d be happier going with a legal firm called U-Hire-A-Wig than "Quality Solicitors". But that's just me. The women were contacted by the representative of Quality Solicitors, "Rod Thompson", who claimed to be a white South African working in Manchester, despite having a thick Nigerian accent. Rod was apparently very helpful. But thinking about it now, whose side was Rod really on?
5) DOES YOUR LOVER PERSISTENTLY USE ODD WORDS – FOR EXAMPLE, "THUNDERING"?
One email, reproduced to many of the same women, became known to the court as "the thundering email", mentioning, as it did, “The love thundering in our hearts that only we can understand…”
This is fine in itself. I’m sure even Keats got a bit carried away sometimes and described his love as "a flock of marzipan egrets flying into a cloud of butt sexy sherbet", or whatever, and then thought better of it after he’d pressed send. Once or twice can be dismissed as drunken flamboyance. But if it persists, it is highly probable that your online lover is a few Nigerian men living on the outskirts of Portsmouth.
“I love your generous kindness to me. I love your eye and lips, your sense of self-love. I want to be with you now."
“I feel like a complete man. The thought of your hands on my body, particularly when you hold me when I am sleeping.”
These James Richards gushes were describe by the chief prosecutor as “messages of… overblown affection”. The chief prosecutor clearly knows a bullshitter when he sees one.
Be wary. Real humans tend to be more circumspect, often just buying you a box of Milk Tray if they happen to be feeling guilty in a petrol station and leaving you to discern the underlying message behind it.
6) DOES YOUR LOVER DO VERY LITTLE EXCEPT WAVE, BLOW KISSES, REVEAL THEIR BUM AND ENCOURAGE YOU TO MASTURBATE?
We all enjoy a lover who waves, blows kisses, reveals their bum and encourages one to jerk-off. Masturbation is natural and healthy. Kisses are intimate gestures. A bum can be visually stimulating. But sometimes things that are too good to be true are just that. And a relationship – a real adult one – should be based on more than this, even if it is just a mutual hatred of that Wankelmut song.
In recent times, a second great social media sex scam has joined the mutated 419s described above. It involves meeting an attractive female stranger on Chatroulette. She then waves, blows kisses, makes banal emoticon-based conversation via the text box, reveals her bum and encourages you to jerk off. This is somewhat dishonest of her, as, after excavating the darkest sexual tunnels of your psyche through your keyboard and relieving yourself into your monitor, your screen fills with a Moldovan gangster’s face and he tells you that he's going to send this video to all of your Facebook contacts if you don’t pay him a couple of grand. Which sounds fucking terrifying.
This is well-documented in forums, and there are already crude-woman simulators commercially available that enable you to joystick this pre-programmed woman's actions, from "she types" to "flashes tits".
The method might be different to cases like the James Richards one but the moral remains the same: there are evil, evil people everywhere and most of them are on the internet.
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