Online Dating Photo Fraud: The Person Behind the Profile

Online Dating Photo Fraud: The Person Behind the Profile

Attractive online daters are both distrusted and desired.

Posted May 26, 2017

Source: Lucky Business/Shutterstock

After several weeks of chemistry-filled communication online and on the phone, you arrive at a coffee shop, filled with excitement and anticipation, for your first offline meeting. You sit on the edge of your chair, eagerly waiting to see if the man (or woman) who walks through the door will look identical to their compelling online image. 

Newsflash: They probably won’t. But that may be just fine. Most online daters avoid setting their expectations too high, because they know that most posters (like themselves) are motivated to put their best foot — or in this case, best face — forward, even it means fudging a few details and using the best photo they can find — no matter how long ago it was taken.

The Photo Makes the Profile

The quest for the perfect profile photo can be time-consuming; some might even have a glamour shot taken.[1] Although outdated photos are posted in lieu of current pics, for obvious reasons, background details (like a Pinto or shag carpet) can help expose the ruse. (One red flag indicating potential photo fraud is a poster who has only one photo. In a world where so many people live lives of constant online show-and-tell, the solo-photo profile may be viewed with suspicion.) Similarly, with photo-editing software more available today, many posters also edit their pictures to make themselves look as good as possible.

All of this effort may seem extreme, but it could also be seen as justified: As much as we acknowledge the importance of a potential partner’s personal qualities and personality, online daters admit that when evaluating profiles, good looks is the first and most important factor they consider.[2] A profile without a photo might not never be read; at least one study found a lack of a photo to be an online dating “deal breaker,” though one that is still second to age.[3]

Ironically, given its importance, research shows that having an attractive photo can actually a double-edged sword.

Beauty Breeds Both Desire and Distrust

Attractive online daters, research shows, are both desired and distrusted — though with the former generally winning out in terms of prompting relational pursuit. But highly attractive photographs decrease the perceived authenticity of a poster — which in turn correlates with diminishing the perceived authenticity of an individual’s accompanying text.[4] Nonetheless, although they are suspicious of the honesty on especially attractive posters, many other users still employ deceptive self-presentation themselves in an attempt to secure dates with the most attractive people possible.[5]

But the research also indicates that their initial suspicion is warranted.

The Quest for Desirability Motivates Dishonesty

Users admit to some degree of misrepresentation in profile construction in order to make themselves more attractive, [6] although most characterize such misrepresentations as exaggerations, as opposed to outright lies.[7] Such misrepresentation — admittedly utilized by 51 percent of participants in a study by researcher Monica Whitty[8] — includes information about appearance, age, weight, current relationships, interests, and socioeconomic status.[9] 

Some research reveals that women are more likely than men to lie about their appearance and to use outdated photos, to appeal to men’s presumed emphasis on physical attractiveness.[10]

Avoid Photo Fraud: Date an Extravert

One type of photo that provides a glimpse of the person behind the profile is the selfie, a timely snapshot of transparency — and research shows that the individuals most likely to post selfies are extraverts. They are also more likely than introverts to upload photos and update their status on social media more frequently, and to display more friends on their Facebook walls.[11] Extraverts are also more likely to “Like,” “Share,” and “Comment” on their newsfeed, as compared to less outgoing peers.[12]

Motivations for posting selfies on social networking sites include communication, attention seeking, archiving, and entertainment.[13] In one study, narcissism was found to be the most significant predictor of frequency of selfie-posing.[14] Narcissism has also been shown to correlate with more frequent status updates.[15]

In pursuit of attention, because selfies reveal values and interests, online reaction may provide validation through affirming self-worth.[16] Selfies thus provide a method of self-promotion through impression management.[17] Regarding communication, selfies stimulate relationships by starting an online dialogue through friends’ replies to comments about one’s posted photos.[18]

A Photo Finish

You will meet many wonderful people online, all of whom want to present themselves in the best light possible. As relationships move offline, many couples will concede that while it was their partner’s profile photo that caught their eye, it was the person behind it who eventually captured their heart.


[1] Monica T. Whitty, ”Revealing the ´real´ me, searching for the áctual´ you: Presentations of self on an internet dating site,” Computers in Human Behavior Vol. 24 (2008): 1707-1723 (1713).

[2] Whitty, ”Revealing the ´real ‘me,” 1716.

[3] Elizabeth Bruch, Fred Feinberg, and Kee Yeun Lee. “Extracting Multistage Screening Rules from Online Dating Activity Data,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Vol. 113, No. 38 (2016): 10530-10535 (10533).

[4] Shao-Kang Lo, Ai-Yun Hsieh, and Yu-Ping Chiu. “Contradictory Deceptive Behavior in Online Dating,” Computers in Human Behavior Vol. 29, No. 4 (2013): 1755-1762.

[5] Lo et al., “Contradictory Deceptive Behavior in Online Dating.”

[6] Whitty, ”Revealing the ´real ‘me,” 1714.

[7] Whitty, ”Revealing the ´real´me,” 1714.

[8] Whitty, ”Revealing the ´real´me,” 1714-1715.

[9] Whitty, ”Revealing the ´real´me,” 1715.

[10] Whitty, ”Revealing the ´real´me,” 1715.

[11] Eunsun Lee, Jungsun Ahn, and Yeo Jung Kim, ”Personality traits and self-presentation at Facebook,” Personality and Individual Differences Vol. 69 (2014): 162-167.

[12] Lee et al.,” Personality traits and self-presentation at Facebook,” 166.

[13] Yongjun Sung, Jung-Ah Lee, Eunice Kim, and Sejung Marina Choi, ”Why we post selfies: Understanding motivations for posting pictures of oneself,” Personality and Individual Differences Vol. 97 (2016): 260-265.

[14] Sung et al., ”Why we post selfies.”

[15] Lee et al., ”Personality traits and self-presentation at Facebook,” 166.

[16] Sung et al., ”Why we post selfies,” 263.

[17] Sung et al., ”Why we post selfies,” 263.

[18] Sung et al., ”Why we post selfies,” 263.

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