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WooMe: TechCrunch40 Finalist, $20 Million In Funding – And One Huge Scam (techcrunch.com)
144 points by bjonathan on Feb 2, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 112 comments

There is a huge industry going on on these kinds of sites - not necessarily done by the site owners...

Generally there are two monitizations for a third party; first of all being an affiliate and sending traffic can be big bucks (I paid for my wedding as a referrer for SexSearch and AdultFriendFinder - I'm not ashamed because I didn't use necessarily shady practices to accomplished this). With big bucks, I mean an easy $45 (at the time) per signup, more if it were a female registering. Having a day making $2k wasn't unheard of.

The second, shadier method, is that there will be "service providers" posing or automating profiles on these sites. The "service providers" (escorts, phone sex, porn sites, rival "dating" sites or plain our scammers) attempt to get the people to use their service by enticing the end-user and making them believe they are a real person. This is generally overlooked because for these new unpaid accounts, their curiosity gets the best of them when they can't read these private messages they are getting, and they end up paying for an account. (It was even beneficial to me, even though I wasn't luring anyone in to paying for an account, these service providers would convert them for me).

The thing that backfires is that so many of these service providers will hurt the quality of a site by making users instantly see that something is wrong - just like in the parent article. It's in WooMe's interest (if they are indeed not doing it themselves) to take control over this kind of misuse, and not let it get out of control - they will just lose real users, and in the end money.

I'm not really understanding the second method. I don't see how a rival "dating" site would have any incentive to get a customer to pay for a rival service. Are you saying that once affiliates drove a user sign-up, they would engage the user via messages to get them to sign up for a paid plan so they would get a greater payout? If so, how did they find the specific users that signed up via their affiliate links?

Just trying to understand who other than WooMe would have an incentive to spam on their site.

It wouldn't be rival dating sites; it would be affiliates to rival sites. I guess the best way to see it is; once you have identified a sucker, take them for all they are worth.

Possible scenario:

1) User signs up for free on WooMe

2) User is enticed by fake account to signup because the picture alone suckered them in, and the unknown of their message just made it too much.

3) Fake account tells user to check out their profile on fake account's website

4) Fake accounts website is a redirect with affiliate code to rival site

5) User signs up for rival site, thus giving the commission to the fake account's holder.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it's all automated and easy to pull off.

Edited for formatting

So the user signs up for paid accounts on two different sites? Sounds lucrative and very shady.

If the user is gullible enough - or at least that is the hopes of some of these fake accounts. It pays off even if you convert 10 people a day - and most likely that is a very easy target number to hit.

Keep in mind this is all playing on human emotions; sex or the desire to be wanted being a huge one; and for some lonely souls out there, it makes them easier prey. My history with doing affiliate programs with that industry has proven that if marketed correctly, it can be a very rewarding business, and even with some seriously scary a/b tests (let's just throw the term farm sex out there) you can still get good conversions. People's desires and curiosity gets to them - and in to their wallet.

I'm not judging you, but an activity where you view your "customers" as prey seems really depressing. I certainly couldn't sleep at night knowing I was taking advantage of people yearning for some happiness in their lives.

Oh, I never took part in these practices, sorry if I lead you to believe this. I did work as an affiliate for these type of sites, however it was via a blog that would review the sites. I will admit, I was deceptive in the fact that I never really used the sites - I was working an angle to make money, but I never tricked users in to thinking I was someone else, or lured them in to a situation where they were forced to register. My reviews simply talked about the features of the site, then provided a link with my affiliate code.

The actual luring tactics do seem predatory and that's why I worded it like that - simply because I have witnessed how others were going about things.

The only thing more frustrating than an ethically challenged business is the investment that came its way instead of going to legitimate start-ups that may die on the vine for lack of capital.

WooMe hasn't raised a round in three years. The company they originally invested in is very different to the company you see today.

Give the investors the benefit of doubt.

That site is a total mess now - full of ads, spam and upsell. It is totally unusable.

Who is to say that ethically challenged businesses cannot be legitimate targets for investors? I hate these sites, but my bet is that they pay off for investors as well as your average YC company...Investors are in the business of making money, not making judgements about ethics. Legal challenges are the ones that matter to a business, not ethical ones.

Maybe we should change that.

The question is: how?

The sentiment (in the US, at least) still seems to be towards less regulation at the moment. Enforcing ethics as well as laws would seem to require even more regulation, unless you have a magic potion that will convince all business directors to self-regulate all at once!

Regulations are only as ethical as the regulator -- just ask Bernie Madoff's victims how well that worked. Indeed, more regulation leads to a false sense of security, and certainly stifles innovation.

Better to have the market, and market players like TechCrunch, sort out this type of low-level malfeasance.

I am definitely not advocating more regulation, only pointing out that laws and ethics are not the same thing. The parent of the above post is the one suggesting to "change that" (implying more regulation) and I am answering that comment.

I agree that this kind of "malfeasance" is not really worth any more attention from regulators.

But then you'd have to have a financial reward system in place that rewards ethical firms.

I don't know how you would do that.

It's called refusing to do business with people who are ethically challenged.


If we socially scorn businesspeople who only focus on extracting value without adding any, if programmers who work at those sorts of companies feel ashamed rather than proud, we won't eliminate the behavior, but we can certainly make it more expensive.

"Investors are in the business of making money, not making judgements about ethics. Legal challenges are the ones that matter to a business, not ethical ones."

That may be how things are, but that doesn't mean they have to be. There's no law of nature or 'business' that dictates that is how it should be, like there's no other weay. It's all a human choice. Some people choose to act this way.

How can we change this? Simple, don't interact with folks that choose to act this way.

Your not going to get very far.

Who is to say the "legitimate" startup deserves the money in the first place? The way I see it, if you're legitimate you should be at break even, investment isn't to dig a company out of a hole but rather to accelerate growth and development. I remember the Twilio CEO saying on Mixergy that they needed investment because without it they wouldn't have been able to grow/build as fast. They didn't need it to stay alive, but they wouldn't be where they are now without it. If a startup dies because of a lack of capital that's their own fault and they probably didn't have a company worth investing in in the first place.

Nobody breaks even on day one, it takes time and resources to get there. Why shouldn't any of it come from investors? YC's premise is that there are good potential founders who don't even have enough capital to live on for the first few months.

YC isn't the same as VC. I should have been a little more clear in my first comment. It's not like I think angels or incubators that make small investments are making bad investments in these young companies. I went through an incubator with my first company, so I know first hand giving those opportunities is priceless.

We're talking about VC funding here. No company goes after VC on day one. All these companies that get millions in series whatever rounds are mature and have some revenue coming in, or at least a plan to turn their userbase into dollars. If a company is mature enough to seek VC funding and also needs that investment to dig themselves out of a hole, then I don't think they're worth investing in. That's all I'm saying, hopefully it makes sense.

"Nobody breaks even on day one"

When I co-founded a company we boostrapped by finding a contracting client who we managed to negotiate with so that they would pay us immediately in cash before the end of the month. So for the first few months we still managed to pay our salaries, make a profit and we had no overheads as we were working on the client site.

After we had some cash in the bank we got an office and purchased our own kit so we could work off site (the client wasn't bothered as long as the work got done). Eventually we got to the point where we decided to focus on product development and we got VC money and moved to only having product related revenue.

So yes, I think we did break even on day one.

TC / Crunchbase might want to change their WooMe's company profile on their pages as well, in light of this article.

Kind of funny that the article calls it "bait-and-switch, from the horrible kind" while linking to an internal-ish overview that says "best of all it’s free".


150k+ records in Crunchbase so it is difficult to keep it up-to-date. The good news is that anybody can edit any record.

I just edited the company bio - how long do I have to wait to see the update ?

The mods usually go through the moderation queue once a day. If you create an account, after a few edits are approved you get permission to insta-edit.

It's this kind of stuff that always gets me fired up about one of my previous employers and the cadre of clones that they run.

What WooMe is doing is nothing different than any other adult "dating" website in that they send messages to users with the hopes of getting them to sign up with a recurring charge (that the company hopes they forget about) and then immediately cut off almost all of this instant contact that the paid user just received. Then about a week later they'll send out a mass mailer to a set of demographics with more fake messages just to string that person and get them to continue forgetting about that recurring $24.99 charge.

Don't even get me started on upselling.

I launched an online dating site FlowMingle.com in 2008 (since closed down). When we were building the site on '07 and looking for investment, over and over we heard 'Your site isn't viral/social enough. Look at WooMe, look at Zoosk, etc. They will eat your lunch!' and with regards to OKCupid "It's at best a niche site for geeks and freaks, it's growing too slowly, it's not viral enough."

Although this TC article is hardly news for anyone who has examined the WooMes of the world for even 15sec., I find the fact that WooMe is outed as a scam and that OKCupid is acquired by Match.com to be hugely vindicating.

By providing users an honest, transparent service that legitimately helps them achieve their aims, you CAN and eventually WILL profit and grow. The damage in investors betting on companies like WooMe is that 1) they scam bunches of online daters and turn them off from the whole industry, they disappoint and lie to people 2) other entrepreneurs see big investment and media coverage for a company like WooMe and think they should chase after that model and mold their businesses to what investors want rather than what users want. 3) ultimately, investing in WooMe doesn't create any long term value and is a waste of time/money and starves other legitimate businesses of opportunity.

Just because a company is getting investment $$, press, meteoric growth, etc does NOT mean it is actually delivering anything of value and/or helping its users achieve their goals. There is always opportunity to win against ANY competitor by doing those simple things.

It's really unfortunate that this is the norm and not an exception. That said, users of these kind of sites are probably most susceptible to this kind of trick as love, lust and infatuation are probably the strongest emotions.

I know of a few people who scrape profiles off of dating site A, create new profiles using that data on dating site B then message users on site B asking them out. A requirement for going out on a date with them (they're obviously posing as an attractive female and messaging males) is signing up to a service that does a background check to verify that they're not dangerous. Affiliate network payout per conversion on background check = $20+ USD

Doing that at scale = you are making $2,000+ USD/day

You want to call them out here? Maybe with an anonymous handle if they know you?

They're all way outside US jurisdiction (where all these sites operate), so there's really no point. These aren't people I know personally, merely acquaintances from various black hat communities. Honour among thieves, and all that.

Here's a suggestion for WooMe, if it wants to cling to some credibility or at least plausible deniability: upgrade the journo's account for free, so that he can contact the senders of those messages. If the messages are offering dates, and insisting on upgraded levels of membership - case closed. If the messages are promoting some unrelated service - the site has a raging spam problem.

And if the messages are real, I'll be a monkey's uncle.

Really, this is too easy to game to worry the cynics - the site owners could log in and continue a few conversations for a bit to make the bad publicity go away.

If I was running this kind of operation I'd probably ensure some conversations continued for a couple of messages after users paid up, just to make sure they didn't cancel or file chargebacks. If I assume men preferred their hot women to pass the Turing test I could probably outsource the flirting to someone in the Philippines at $5 per hundred messages.

Wow. That is a horrible. Can't believe any VC would invest money in such a misleading, annoying startup.

Are these messages coming from WooMe internally or are they SPAM submitted from "Russian bride scams"? Either way, I'm staying away and warning others!

WooMe probably didn't start out this way. Desperation can do bad things to good intentions.

That's like the oldest scam that pretty much every single dating site uses. I'm surprised how TC is shocked...shocked to find that on a dating site.

Reddit did the same thing starting out...the only difference is that they didn't try to trick you into paying.

The value reddit users get is from viewing new and interesting content and comments.

The value a user of a dating site gets is the PROSPECT of going on a face to face meeting with another person.

If reddit engineers were good enough to make an AI to post great new great content everyday along with insightful comments and analysis, I'd still go. Hell, that might make me want to go even more often.

If I found out a dating site users were doing the same with messaging, that completely precludes me from getting the value I really want from the site, thus its useless.

There's a bit of a difference between the company owners starting conversations between themselves to create content interesting enough to attract outsiders and robots (indirectly) asking you to pay so you can reply to their messages.

The most underhand variation of all I've encountered was sms.ac (ironic acroynm) which suckered you in with Bebo-style friendspam to join their "free SMS" network, at which point your blank profile started receiving unsolicited reverse charge "flirts" from random non-humans.

When WooMe launched they got a lot of attention. They thought they were going to take the world by storm. Unfortunately their product is a novelty.

They took $17.4 million dollars of VC with no real hope of showing a return to their investors. They got desperate and this is the result.

This is particularly poignant and frustrating given OKCupids recent acquisition. I'm happy for those guys- but I am sad that the one good dating site will probably be discontinued. It's tough when you know the shady tactics of practically all the others.

Match.com would have to be utter idiots to close down OkCupid. If they keep it running, it's a serious asset, for a bunch of reasons, and one hopes that they'd be mature enough not to care if one brand they own is cannibalising another.

If they close it down, yes, their main brand will be protected, but so will everyone else's. There's no competitive advantage whatsoever in doing it.

I'm not sure what the law is in the US, but I'm pretty sure that would be illegal in the UK both under sales legislation and under anti-fraud laws.

Hey don't knock the horse face. I did fine at Burning Man wearing a Horse Head mask. Maybe there are a lot of playa princesses on WooMe.

Wow. It's 2011 and I still haven't gone to Burning Man. Been meaning to go since 1995.

looks at blizzard outside

Here is what the site does (or at least did two-three months ago, when I tried it).

After you pay for your account, it immediately asks you "do you want the site to introduce you to people who may be of interest" or something like that. A little later, I looked at my Sent folder and saw that I had said "hi" or "what's up" to dozens of people, many who are not local or I otherwise would not be interested in.

I realize I'll probably spend some karma here, but after reading TC and checking out the site (and the blog post by the site), I see what's happening. And there is a LOT of misunderstanding in the TC article and in the comments of HN.

One of the services WooMe offers is to automatically introduce people they think will get along. They do NOT make it clear its the system doing the introduction, nor that its automated. But what is clear is these are all real people on the site, no fake accounts.

So yes, no person sent a hello to a horse in the middle of the night. But that doesn't make the whole thing fake. It mimics a scam, but is not.

Imagine if after signing up for Facebook for the first time, FB sent you 10 friend requests within minutes of people they thought you knew - one step further than what they already do with suggested friends. Is that a scam? Or is that a ham-fisted attempt at helping you get started using the site?

It's clearly not a scam. It's just really really borderline on the ethical side. I've never used a dating site of any kind, so I have no idea what is normal in that industry.

Except that the screenshots clearly say "(so and so) has sent you a message", which is plainly false. I'm not sure how you could see it any other way.

This site may be dishonest, but its certainly nothing new. Most dating sites you go to employ some of the same tactics. They will try to lure you in and then put up a paywall. I guess the thing that is bad here is that they lie about having automated messages when they obviously do. That is really kind of slimy, they might as well admit to the obvious at this point.

I'm kinda disappointed, I just signed up (with what I thought was a engaging picture: http://www.illusionking.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/horse...) and I've only got three messages from VIP members. Thank you Anita, Yanisa and Shawna !

I don't understand, how does he know it is actually WooMe behind the bots? Couldn't it be some scammer who has nothing to do with WooMe?

No one remembers how you got that--just that you got there.

where is the analogous website for scamming women with pics of hot boys? "pay 50% OFF to chat with Ivan!"

what a chauvinism!..

for the record, robin wauters didn't approach us to verify anything in the story and the accusations are untrue and misleading.

we focus very hard on getting people to talk to each other and interact and we have a number of features on the site, driven by users, that make that happen.

Ironically, the user featured in the pic is one of the longest standing and most active on WooMe.


"wooMe is the most fun you'll have online for FREE!"

"get started now! it's 100% free and takes 30 secs to sign up"

Doing a Bayesian update on the claims of automated bot messages, with the fact that the company is willing to make obviously untrue statements on its front page, it seems reasonably likely that they would be willing to lie in other places too. I realise that claiming to be free probably increases conversions, but you shouldn't pursue conversions at the expense of basic ethics. Would you shoot a puppy to increase conversions too?

So, at the moment, I'd evaluate as 80% likely the claims in the TC blog post. Still waiting to read nicferrier's responses to http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2170210 though.

Getting started is 100% free. It seem's like it's the actual talking to other people that you have to pay for. If not bait-and-switch, these weasel words are certainly misleading.

I can only imagine what the bounce rate is when you put the payment details after the signup for a nerfed account. You can't do much until you upload a photo of yourself and by then they have already gotten something from you: the appearance of activity and photos they can dangle in front of other users. What do they call that again… bait for the lobster trap?


Use of Information Obtained by WooMe

When you register with WooMe, you create your own profile and privacy settings. Your profile information, as well as your name, email and photo, are displayed to people in the networks specified in your privacy settings to enable you to connect with people on WooMe.


Profile information is used by WooMe primarily to be presented back to and edited by you when you access the service and to be presented to others permitted to view that information by your privacy settings.

You know, it is certainly possible that those messages are all either spam accounts or real people trying to make the money they paid worthwhile by meeting someone. Then again, pyramid schemes are perpetuated by real people trying hard to make their investment worth it too.

"Profile information is used by WooMe primarily to be..." — that 'primarily' is plausible grounds for secondary uses, such as making up 'new' (new to you) 'real' (there is a user who has this profile image) profiles to be shown in different demo/geo segments

I did contact WooMe. The accusations are not misleading, see also the update to my post.

Also, the user featured in the top picture personally contacted me, and while I never claimed her profile was fake (but mine obviously was), it turns out she's pretending to be someone else on there (confirmed).

It's easy to say I fabricated the story, much harder to prove, isn't it?

I wouldn't be calling you out if I didn't think you really need to take a good look of how what kind of shady business you're running.

I didn't say you fabricated the story, I am taking issue with you claiming they are fake users, made by us. They are not, they're real users of the site. Could be there was a lot of spam on the site at that time - but we weren't sending you fake activity. You acknowledge that the lady in the picture was real.

We didn't do anything to stop these getting to you, as you say elsewhere in this thread. Since you weren't top online anymore (and if you're not engaging you also drop off the top of the 'online now' list) you just didn't get these messages anymore.

As for contacting us... well, I'm sorry, I guessed we dropped it. I've been trying to track down your email and I can't find it.

The statement of "I've been trying to track down your email and I can't find it" falls right into the problem with the site. It is obvious you did not try to hard or at all. Robin is active on Twitter, has his own domain name with links to among other things an email address, and if all else fails, reaching out directly to TechCrunch for contact to a writer is fairly simple.

You, sir, sound like a snake oil salesman of the worst kind. Either that or you have no clue how your site operates.

edit but apparently 'Jen' does. Screencast here -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOtBmqqKVcc

(Thanks to my Appsumo purchase of Screenflow which saved me 50%!)

Ok, that is pretty damning.

If someone signs up and realises they've been duped, they probably won't even contest the CC charge due to a variation on the Small Penis Rule: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_penis_rule

They'll just cancel their account to avoid being rebilled.

I imagine that happens a lot, although that wasn't the case for me.

And actually, they handled the cancellation process well (at least for me).

I called them up and said I want to cancel because "their site is a scam" and in a no-nonsense way the person started helping me undo the payment (without defending the site). Since I paid through PayPal, I did have to dispute the payment via them (which took a month or two) but I eventually got all of my money back.

So I give the company (or at least the person I talked with) props for their cancellation process, although not everyone may experience it that way.

As much as I'm NOT here to stick up for Nic and his site, he is telling the truth that this is a 3rd party service. http://www.intellichat.com/demo is one of a number of services like that.

You put a tiny fake-ai-chatbot on the page to help with conversions.

Here in Toronto, I interviewed once with a dating site similar dating site similar to WooMee /* on second thought I won't link to them */ who "Seem" to be doing similar things (this is of course only alleged misconduct, as I have no proof)

There are also numerous accounts of the dating scam sites out there. I read one story of a "Sugar Daddies Dating" site that charged huge fees to sign up, then when you did a chargeback, they'd refer you to collections for many times what you originally pledged.

So it's either pay up or damage your credit rating. http://maxkle.in/how-elite-dating-sites-scam-people/ Max Klein has a good account of one such scam.

so the thing in the screencast is not a message from a user, nor does it claim to be.

It's actually an experiment with a 3rd party to see if an automated response system converts people to our paid service well.

Who are you trying to kid here? It's obvious to those here that it's an automated response system...a.k.a. a bot. Many of the users here could / have written such a bot at one time with far less nefarious reasoning behind doing so. You can't deny that the purpose of that bot is to fool people into thinking that they're talking to 'Jen', a user on your site (whether or not you specifically say so does not discard the intent).

Stop treating the people on this site like we're simply misinformed teenagers crying wolf.

> to our paid service well.

From your website: "it's 100% free"

right. I'm the CTO. I'm not sure what I can do to combat the perception that I sell snake oil. I don't sell snake oil. I help people meet each other.

If you really WANT snake oil I guess I could find some and get it to you.

You're right, that was totally unprofessional of me to lay such an ad hominem attack and run away...so let me expand upon my thought some more.

Your site either uses fake accounts to trick legitimate users into paying to view messages from these supposed hot women looking for dates with horses and guys who have just signed up yet haven't provided any personal details...or you have a very serious spam problem where bots are running rampant across your site with hordes of fake accounts trolling for new profiles to scam (or a combination therein).

As evidence, I just logged in to my woome account, which I haven't logged into in maybe 3 years, and immediately I got a request for a video chat from http://www.woome.com/sallyl3462/ . Who wants to get laid tonight? Sally does!

Thanks - I've cancelled that account. Some of these buggers are a pain to catch automatically

I can't say there aren't spammers using our site. that problem waxes and wanes and we try to deal with it as best we can. The user quoted is most definitely a spammer and I'll look into why we haven't caught that.

I don't think that's what robin is trying to say tho.

We are simply trying to make introductions happen as much as possible because that's what people use woome for. To meet new people.

It seems to work, to my knowledge our users are generally happy we have good time on site, repeat vistits and viping.

They appear to be spamming for the express purpose of converting free woome users to paid ones. Come on.

Dude, do you seriously think the people here at HN are stupid?

The same game as google plays with the adsense spam sites. As long as they make money, allow them to stay even though in public you say taht you will do everything to ban them.

It's not that hard to spot users messaging new users during the first few minutes. If one user does this multiple times, just ban him.

> I'm not sure what I can do to combat the perception that I sell snake oil.

1. Delete the fake bot accounts

2. Re-word your homepage so that it is clear to users that you need to pay money to do anything useful

3. Come out and say 'in an effort to ramp up user engagement we went too far and made a mistake. apologies'

I signed up for your site years ago. I have slowly watched it progress from something useful to a totally degenerate spam and bait site.

(Edit: I will add that if it is your affiliates who are doing the spamming, then ban them and put in better controls. I just logged into my account and got 3 messages in less than a second)

So your saying that every message received came from a real user of the website?

I don't know what he received so I can't say. But our tools promote real users interacting with real users. Maybe Robin could talk to us if he has a problem.

Horses for courses not withstanding.

I got about 5 messages the first 2-3 minutes after signing up. A short while later, I had roughly 20 random women contacting me. Good thing I have screenshots, because they stopped coming as soon as WooMe noticed my post.

I can only see what these supposedly real women are trying to tell or ask me until I pay up. That's all fine and dandy, but there's no point in pretending that real users were just all jumping on the opportunity to meet a horse in such a short time period.

You're doing this for work, right? Why not go ahead and pay the $25 and see what the messages say?

Yes, I'm curious to see how they deal with a response to the messages. Seems like it would be a lot of trouble for them to do anything besides send some fake messages and not reply to them (although I guess they could automate those, too).

It would really be interesting to create a second account, or even a second paid account, and see if any of the messages were exactly the same.

Because it could be one of those services that is hard to cancel without cancelling the credit card.

"I don't know what he received so I can't say."

Speak straight. Do you or do you not send automated messages or messages from fake accounts in an effort to entice visitors to sign up?

we do not.



Yeah, that's a "real" dater.

that's not a message from a user.

It however looks like a user and people will think it's a user. So it's a fake user.

Are you aware of any process by which new users are sent automated messages from accounts, valid or not?

They might be paying commission to users that get other users to pay for membership. That would generate very bot-like behavior even if the users are "real".

Is it your belief that the messages in question are genuine?

Stop pretending I'm not engaging in a conversation.

I've not yet signed up, but I will later today to check out how this services tries to trick people into paying money with the promise of good looking girls waiting to talk to you.

From TC:

" After a user "friends" someone, we pop up 6 "other people like him" and the user can select up to 6 people to "say hi" to. Again, we try to focus on 1) relevance and 2) online now in populating those suggestions."

Does that mean that a user has to pay for his curiosity just to see a bunch of "say hi" messages?

I'm pretty sure they'll have disabled that functionality until this incident blows over.

The evidence does not seem overwhelming to me. It is well known that girls love horses, so it doesn't seem that surprising that he is flooded with messages if he uses a horse avatar.

The Complete Idiot's Guide To Frauds, Scams, and Cons http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0028644158/thepolitic...

How is this an article so thoroughly under-researched? Why not go a little bit further and investigate if actual people are posting?

Hi $name, thank you for messaging me. I'm new to this site, so can you please tell me the process on how you send me that message, where did you have to click, etc? I am still trying to figure this out, so if you could tell me what buttons you had to press to send the message to me, I'd appreciate it, it would help me get started. Thank you ahead of time, $name. P.S. Have you read any good books lately?

And then, to be even more sure, create a couple more accounts through proxies and see what kind of messages they get. Do deactivate them after.

See, while it does look like some sort of bait-and-switch, at least try to verify it. Maybe at the very least they've got a very persuasive feature where new members do get popped up, and there's a user initiated "Poke" like feature (that appears as a message on your end), so that would put them somewhere in grey-hat tactics out of the black-hat area.

Oh come on, COME ON, I'm all for research too, but 15 messages from women in the middle of the night who want to date a horse is not something that requires going deep undercover before you decide that it's fake. And he said that it would cost him $60 just to contact anyone or do anything on that site.

i agree that its most likely fake, but it seems like TC would be able to comp him for the $30 for a membership it would take to lend weight to the story.

are the messages fake? again, yeah, probably. but its also concievable that one or two are "lol a horse" type of messages. kind of depends on how the site itself works.

It's not just the messages from users, it's the whole concept of showing nothing unless you hand over your credit details, pretending hot women are dying to contact you even though you're obviously not date material (unless they're into horses), the unsolicited emails, the corny live chat box and pop-up message when you try to close it, and so on.

> it's the whole concept of showing nothing unless you hand over your credit details

this is how a lot of dating sites work. no contact unless you pay, no receiving messages unless you pay. its also how classmates.com works, not just dating sites. and one of the reasons they were sued recently is due to business practices similar to this.

> pretending hot women are dying to contact you even though you're obviously not date material (unless they're into horses), the unsolicited emails

again, this is probably true, but there's no proof of it unless the dude signed up and found out for sure. more data required.

> the corny live chat box and pop-up message when you try to close it

shady indeed, but they're not the only place who makes use of this.

There seems to be a notion that I shouldn't call out WooMe because other sites are doing it too. I don't know where that is coming from.

My notion is that you should call out WooMe. Go for it. However, as an author it is your responsibility to try to research as much as possible. It does seem, from the surface level that you described, that those messages are spam/automatically generated. However one could come up with a semi-plausible bordering on the edge of legitimacy rationale why you had received those messages. Maybe WooMe discovered a novel way of nudging users towards communication with each other, maybe they get Achievement Points for sending messages to new users? Likely? Not really, However, chatting with a very cleverly disguised CTA does not constitute thorough research.

call out woome. the situation looks bad. it probably is bad. but call out woome with facts, not speculation. that is the notion.

Your attempt to split the difference kind of reminds me of this: http://xkcd.com/690/ . Sorry. What does it matter if only 18 of the 20 messages were fakes intended to make him sign up, and 2 were real? Not that I'd think for a second that any of them were.

i'm not splitting the difference. if any messages were fake, its shady and legally liable. my point is, how can he know this for sure? all he's doing is saying that it is probably true, and not investigating. $30 from TC to sign up for a month and verify his assumption is just good journalism.

Or paying scammers to "prove" the bleeding obvious. I'm not sure that getting no replies to private messages (happens all the time on legit sites) is any better a standard of proof than 16 hot girls sending generic messages of interest in dating a horse (doesn't happen).

For all I know, one of the Nigerians in my spam folder really is sitting on piles of cash, but I don't think it would be good investigative journalism to give them small sums of money to test how many of them aren't lying.

CC chargeback.

for the average consumer, obviously, you would want to avoid it. for TC doing some journalism on a company they once supported and gave praise, PR, traffic, and the buzz to get funding, i would've expected a bit more.

but maybe thats just me.

since i can't edit anymore: instead of giving them money, go create a few more dummy accounts and see if the same thing happens to them. that would also be sufficient proof, imo

You're the one who said it's "conceivable" that one or two of the messages are real, e.g. "LOL." So it's inconceivable that 18 or so are real. How is that not splitting the difference in a funny way? The journo's point is that new profiles get sent fake messages to convert them. This is obviously true, even if there are real messages too.

it is conceivable. it is possible. it is, however, not at all likely.

like i said in another response, they're almost definitely doing shady business. call them out on it. but call them out on it with facts, not speculation. TC is supposed to be tech journalism (sometimes, at least). do due diligence, get some proof and report on it.

I have to agree. I think it's odd that just natural curiosity didn't take over, and a real account made and paid for. I'd donate $5, as I'm sure others here would, just to see the results. I think someone else mentioned that looking at the messages and emails would certainly prove the point with zero doubt.

I realize that women responding instantly to a horse picture is obvious, but why not nail all the nails in the coffin? Seems like an easy step to pay for a month of an account to read the emails.

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