Finding fake profiles was a secretive and calculated process, with the team scouring social networking sites and stealing people’s photos to use on their fake profiles: ‘You’d take Helga from Iceland and make her into Helen from Manchester and write a profile,’ says Ryan.
‘You’d use her features and invent a whole new person.’ The role of the fake profiles — or ‘pseudos’ as they were called by employees — was to email members flirtatious messages to entice them into continuing their subscriptions.
Global Personals was one of the first online dating companies to stop using pseudo profiles.What she didn’t expect was to find herself posted as a ‘hot date’ on cheesy lads’ magazine sites, and bombarded by spam emails from people who didn’t even exist — or if they did, had anything but a country walk in mind.Over the course of the four years Jenny has been on the site, not one of the men she met has been a member of where she originally posted her profile. Alarmingly, half were not parents at all and only one had a child the same age as her son.‘Part of me suspected it was too good to be true, but I replied anyway.’ And, surprise surprise, she never heard back.‘I only met most of them once, for a drink,’ she says.‘One, a store manager, had joined a website called Old Flirt. They came from geographical and rock music dating sites. One didn’t even know I had a son, which was the whole point.Up to 400 messages an hour were sent by the team who frequently coerced their victims into intimate text conversations.It is the sheer variety of websites Jenny has been made available to that shocked her the most when Channel 4 contacted her a fortnight ago to tell her their findings — and which finally persuaded her to cancel her subscription.Within weeks, Jenny got her first warning signal: She’d begun emailing a fellow single parent from her area and the pair had swapped phone numbers:‘I texted him and said “it’s Jenny from Just Single Parents” and he replied “what? ‘I know I got emails that weren’t from real people,’ she told Channel 4 News.‘You’d ask a man a question, such as how many children he had, and would get a reply tell you how happy they are they’ve met you.’She adds: ‘You don’t realise to start with that these companies they have “ice breaker” messages saying “I like your profile” or “you’ve got a lovely smile” that are sent to all the women in East Sussex between the ages of 35 and 55. After a while you realise a lot of the messages you get are sent to hundreds of people, not just you.’‘I remember one email I got that persuaded me to re-join was from a good-looking, wealthy single father who ran his own building business,’ says Jenny.He was my age but, had I known the site he was on, I would have hauled him out on the grounds that it was a ridiculous name. It made me think my profile might have been edited.I was perplexed.’Channel 4 News investigators spoke to whistle-blower Ryan Pitcher, who joined the company in 2008 and a second, unnamed, employee, who detailed the suspicious way in which they were recruited, when they were warned they were not to discuss their duties with family and friends.