Navigating the Online Dating Jungle

The list of people that clients don't want to meet online -- including sexual predators, pedophiles, scammers, spammers and plain old liars -- is a long one. Online dating sites have various approaches to keeping out undesirables. And at least one company offers a service to help users keep ahead of the bad guys.

Iovation Inc.'s ReputationManager service, which is also used by financial services, social networking and online gaming sites, collects data on 32 categories of unwelcome activities ranging from fraud to spam to chat abuse.

The system then associates those behaviors with the specific computer used by creating a "device print." In this way, scammers who are detected can't just log in again under a new identity.

Information on suspect devices is shared with all subscribers so that a scammer who attacks one site can be blocked from accessing another -- or at least flagged as a potential problem. Some subscribers use the information immediately to block suspect accounts, but most flag the accounts for review by their own risk management group.

ReputationManager can work by downloading software onto the computer of every person who visits a given site, but online dating sites don't want to do that, explains Greg Pierson, Iovation's CEO. Instead, the company uses other methods to develop a unique identification print for each computer. "This isn't a matter of looking at some small number of relatively unique identifiers," such as cookies, he says.

Fraudsters may use a ghost image to reformat a machine and avoid detection. "What we have to do is gather enough information about the device to run this as a signal processing or pattern matching problem," he says. And if a newly reformatted machine logs into an account associated with the previous device, Reputation Manager immediately flags it.

Pierson acknowledges that device prints can be defeated if the attacker puts enough effort into it. But he says that process is very time consuming and most attackers don't bother. "A huge number of people are caught because they didn't do it," he says. The company claims to have stopped more than 730,000 account creations and fraudulent activities last year.

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