"I don't know if I can disclose this," Conru says, "but recently, I had a guy do a search to see, like, White House.gov, and we found that there are lots of .govs, and a lot of "The company incentivizes members to prove they're who they say they are by sending in copies of their drivers licenses in return for a "verified" button on their profiles (similar to the little blue checks on Twitter accounts).The fact that men outnumber women on the site's heterosexual platform ten-to-one is just life, they figure, and the women on the site are seemingly active enough to keep the guys onboard."A lot of people think this only happens to dumb people, and they can tell if they're talking to a bot," says Steve Baker, a lead investigator for the Federal Trade Commission tells me. The people running these scams are professionals, they do this for a living."The scam starts with creating a chat bot, which is easier than you'd think. The Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, or ALICE, which generates scripts for chatterbots, has been around for decades.These programs can be modified for any purpose, though designing a believable online dating companion can take considerable time and effort — perhaps too much for some of the troops at Ashley Madison.When he saw an ad for the dating site Ashley Madison, which boasted 36 million members and the tagline, "Life is short, have an affair," he decided to check it out. Everyday, he received more of these come-ons — until he finally said, "Fuck it." "I'm like, ' Hey, all these women want to talk with me,'" he recalls. As anyone who's dated online knows, this is not entirely unusual. "I just figured they're not interested anymore," Russell says.
But what's truly phenomenal is the durability of this online hustle, and the millions of saps still falling for it.
Whether you know it or not, odds are you've encountered one. "The majority of the matches are often bots," says Satnam Narang, Symantec’s senior response manager. Keeping the automated personalities at bay has become a central challenge for software developers.
"It's really difficult to find them," says Ben Trenda, Are You Human's CEO.
Last July, he found out that he wasn't the only one getting the silent treatment.
A hacker group called The Impact Team leaked internal memos from Ashley Madison's parent company, Avid Life, which revealed the widespread use of sexbots — artificially-intelligent programs, posing as real people, intended to seduce lonely hearts like Russell into paying for premium service. The strangers hitting you up for likes on Facebook? And, like many online trends, this one's rising up from the steamier corners of the web.