Monday, October 17, 2016

Yep, Still Undateable: My New Friend, Tony

When I last had you captivated with my tales of online dating, I had yet to introduce you to the final aspirant for my love and attention. Let’s call him “Carl ‘Tony’ Anthony” because, well, that’s what he called himself…

‘Tony’ is a 50 year old man living in Allenton, WI. A successful civil engineer who took over the family construction business after his father passed away. He loves what he does because it keeps him busy and indulges his affinity for world travel. You see, his company is often in the running for seven figure contracts from around the world, important people vying for his civil engineer-y services for things like road design and city planning. His company also does things like planning and construction of state-of-the-art entertainment complexes such as Edmonton Arena and Rogers Place (which I have since Google-learned are one in the same). Now, I wasn’t under the assumption that my new friend Tony was purporting to have had a hand in such a grand project, but was merely providing an example for educational purposes.

Early on in our conversations, he let me know that he’d had some bad experiences on OKCupid, women from foreign countries asking him for money, so he wanted to be super careful. He felt very lucky to have met me because he had been seriously considering deactivating his account. He asked if I might feel ok giving him my cell number, so we could text. I didn’t feel I was putting myself at risk by giving him the number, I can always block him (or change my number) if things got weird. He then suggested that we both deactivate our OKCupid accounts. I saw no harm in that. I mean, I wasn’t doing so under the guise of thinking that he was “the one,” I just didn’t want the complication and potential confusion of getting to know more than one guy at once. Done. And our text conversations commenced. Questions and answers and pictures, back and forth, as we attempted to determine if we were compatible.

This is the perfect juncture in the story to let you know that I was not so fool-hardy as to not take steps to attempt to validate some of the things he was telling me. I Googled his phone number and did reverse image searches on the photos he sent me via text. No results; no matches anywhere on the net. That’s a positive sign, right? No results for his name on social media, but he said he doesn’t use it because he just doesn’t have the time. Alrighty; moving along….

As we got to know each other, I asked him where Allenton is in Wisconsin. The name sounded familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it. Here is a screenie of his response:

Uhhhh, that’s nice?

So I Googled ‘Allenton WI’ and linked to this...

I guess he didn’t think the zip code or census data were important.
I challenged him, responding, “Lol, did you totally copy and paste that info about Allenton from Wikipedia?” He didn’t admit to doing it while also not not admitting to doing it. So, was he just wanting to sound smart? Or was he so unfamiliar with Wisconsin geography (e.g., currently a citizen of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) that he felt that was his best bet in casual conversation? I decided to leave that breadcrumb in the back of my mind, where it could mold and fester into proper suspicion.

A day after we began our text conversations, he asked if I would Skype with him. “Jackpot,” I thought! If I’ve learned one thing from Nev Schulman, it’s always get them to video chat. I’ve never used Skype before because I’ve never had a reason to use it. So I told Tony that I would download it and sign up for an account. He gave me his Skype ID and, as soon as I sent the request, he added me and sent me my very first Skype message:

And our first Skype call began. I was using my smartphone and, having never used the app before, I thought I had done something wrong when I could see him but not hear him. He disconnected the call after less than 2 minutes and we resumed using Skype instant messaging, where he let me know that he had been able to hear me just fine. He chalked it up to his connection, and I said I would download it on my PC for our next attempt to see if that worked better.

Over the next few text chats, I learned that he bought his house in Allenton in 2007, and the employees of his company (whom he refers to as ‘his boys’) have helped him renovate it. His dog, a two year old German Shepherd named Kent, is very smart and loyal. His mom lives in Janesville, and his younger (only) sister, who is happily married with two little children, lives in another state. He’s never been married but his most recent long term relationship ended 11 months ago when his girlfriend cheated on him, accusing him of not being attentive enough. “Am I not giving you all of my attention, Sandy,” he asked? Yes, Tony, you are quite attentive… a bit too attentive.

He couldn’t stop telling me how happy he was that we’d met. That he just wanted a partner, someone to love and cherish, and he was sure that we had chemistry and would be together. He talked about how he can’t wait to ‘fix up a date’ for us to meet, and for me to meet his family and he hoped that I wanted the same. He went on about how he wanted to travel with me. He was falling for me, he said.

Alright, Tony, let’s back this shit up a minute. We’ve been chatting for all of two days and you’re falling for me? You don’t even know much about me. Let’s take it down a few notches, m’kay? He apologized for being too forward, but he knows what he wants, and he wants me. I said that I appreciated his optimism and self-assurance, but that it was too intense for me this early on and was making me uncomfortable. He apologized again and our subsequent conversations were more vanilla. We tried to Skype again, this time I logged on using my PC and webcam but, just like the first time, I could see him sitting there speaking (and drinking his pink energy drink from a Blender Bottle) but no audio was coming through. We disconnected and chatted a bit over instant message.

He likes scary movies, especially 80’s classics like Friday the 13th. He prefers Xbox One to Playstation 4 when playing his favorite games like FIFA and Assassin’s Creed. Cats are ok, but he prefers dogs. He doesn’t watch much TV because he’s so busy with work. Oh, speaking of work, he has a contract coming up that’s taking him to Miami – and – he’s waiting to hear if he got the bid on a huge contract in West Africa, which would have him staying there for five months to oversee things. How exciting!

“What’s your email address? When I’m in Miami, I’ll be so busy with my boys that I can’t text or Skype so I will email with you,” he explained. When I conveyed my confusion (no texting but email is doable?) he simply resigned himself to getting back in touch when he returned in four days. I started to feel the weight of that putrid, decaying remnant of our first conversation, the WikiPaste incident. Perhaps I hadn’t done my due diligence in my initial detective work. I started looking through all the pics he’d sent me. He was wearing this black baseball cap in a few of them, it had a logo and slogan on it. Maybe if I Google that, I thought, I can at least see if it’s from some place near where he says he lives. Breadcrumbs, people, breadcrumbs. The logo was in pink embroidered script, Zesty* – Real Men Drink Pink. Hmmmm….creepy strip club maybe?

The first couple results took me to dead ends, promos for California winery tours. I kept seeing a link to this amateurish looking website for something called “Standard Re-Start*,” but it looked like another dead end, until I started clicking around. It’s all health and wellness crap, real pyramid scheme-y stuff, and *lo-and-behold* one of their products is a pink energy drink powder called Zesty* (see also: the prelude to our first Skype call, the video content of our second Skype call). And there it was, right on their Facebook page:

But, but….. that says “Look at Dude*.” That’s not Dude. That’s Tony! Right? And it just escalated from there. A few clicks from that page took me to Dude’s personal Facebook page. I found many of the pics I had received by text. And while we’re on the subject of texting with Dony (Tony…. Dude…. Dony), one of the first pieces of info I searched was his phone number. That was my introduction to the world of ‘non-fixed VoiP’ phone service, but knowing what VoiP is, didn’t look any deeper. Now that I was feeling queasier about the whole thing, I searched the number again and found that the carrier is a company called NextPlus (get your *FREE* account to text and call over Wi-Fi… blah, blah, blah). You can, with nothing more than an email address, set up an account with NextPlus and obtain a phone number with any area code you wish. There are apparently two viable reasons why someone might use it to communicate: 1) They are concerned about their privacy and believe that someone can glean more actual personal information from a cell phone number than is possible for the general public, or 2) They have something to hide. At this point, I’m betting on the latter.

Facebook is a great and powerful tool. I found some similarities between real-life Dude and the online alias Tony. Dude is 46 and lives in a small town in Wisconsin that isn’t Allenton. Remember Kent, the two year old German Shepherd? He’s actually six years old, and his name isn’t Kent. Dude is in a long term relationship with a woman, both of them frequently on the receiving end of jokey comments from friends and family about “putting a ring on it.” Dude’s mother passed away suddenly a couple of years ago and never lived in Janesville. Dude has a sister who lives in another state with her two kids, but no sign of a marriage, happy or otherwise. Oh, Dude has a second sister, too. I wonder why she didn’t make the final cut into the life and times of Carl ‘Tony’ Anthony. Then, things got weird…

Dude’s girlfriend, the one he is very much still in a relationship with? A click on her Facebook profile greeted me with the message that we have a mutual friend. I am Facebook friends with one of her relatives. Not someone I know in real life, or have ever even spoken to off Facebook. We are Facebook friends out of happenstance. An acquaintance of an acquaintance of a friend, who I added to grant me access to a closed group.

What was Tony’s end game? I wish I could say for sure. Learning all of this info on the real guy behind the pictures, I was left with the question, “Is it Dude using a fake name to scam women, or is he a victim here, too, having had his pictures and online presence stolen by Tony in an effort to scam women?” I had a plan. The names of Dude’s aunts and uncles were listed in his mother’s online obit, and one of my options was to tell Tony all about my cats… that just happen to have the same names as three of his uncles (totally not true, but a great story, bro). You know, see if that shakes him. I could try and bait him into offering me some samples of that crappy energy drink powder; see if I could catch the catfish that way. Alas, my fun ended prematurely.

After “returning from Miami,” he sent me a text message, telling me that he missed talking to me. He asked if I could Skype, and I agreed. Before we could even get to another fake video chat (oh yeah, that’s a real thing), I jokingly shared that my friend was concerned about my blossoming relationship. I told him she said I should ask him to send me a pic of himself holding a sheet of paper with my name and the current date written on it. He just about lost his mind. The immediate and complete overreaction was very telling, “How can you think that of me, we talked on cam,” he exclaimed. I went on to say how my friend’s daughter had been scammed by someone who could even fake a Skype call. He stopped responding. And that was the last time I heard from Tony.

I reported his spoofed calls to Skype, and his account was banned for abuse. I reached out to NextPlus to file a complaint, and their response included that they deactivated the account for fraudulent activity. I contacted OKCupid and, after some initial run around, I received feedback that they have blocked his login credentials to prevent him from ever using that profile again. I felt good about all that.

Be smart online, and in life. No one falls in love after three days of text messaging. If it feels weird, it probably is.

I learned a lot from this experience. About the things people attempt when trying to scam someone via online dating. The “civil engineer” is just as common as the “military man,” because it's plausible for either to be out of the country for extended periods of time. Google reverse image search doesn’t reliably return results. All of the pictures he sent me via text were on Dude’s Facebook page, yet they returned zero web results when plugged into Google. Most importantly, I learned that I thoroughly enjoy puzzles. Once I got that first hit from Google, I was a woman on a mission. Nothing could stop me until I had it all figured out. Nev and Max – watch out!

* The names of the real life people, products, and businesses have been changed to protect the innocent and avoid giving traffic to their shitty merchandise. Ambiguity of some locations is intentional.
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