Smart Strategies to Detect a Liar Online

20 tips for catching online creeps

Posted Mar 25, 2015, used with permission
Source:, used with permission

More than 20 million people visit online dating services every months. Lots and lots of these daters are highly successful. They meet their soul mate or a lifelong partner online using this approach. But there is also a lot of creeps out there. Some online-daters put up photos from 20 years ago or borrow one of their friends’. Some lie about their age, their job situation, their marital status, their economic status or their personality traits. Some are prostitudes or sexual predators in disguise. Given all this uncertainty, how do you best navigate through the jungle of online profiles?

According to Catalina Toma, Communication Science Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jeffrey Hancock, Communication Professor at Cornell University, linguistic cues can reveal whether a person is lying or telling the truth. Liars tend to use the first-person pronoun “I” sparingly. They consciously or unconsciously want to distance themselves from their BS. They also tend to write less in their profile descriptions. The less they say the fewer lies they have to remember. Finally, people who put up fake pictures usually do not comment on their appearance. Instead they talk about their personality or job situation. These three cues, the researchers say, can detect liars 65 percent of the time.

If you look through the plethora of psychological literature, you will quickly come about other signs to watch out for in online dating profiles and initial email exchanges. The following are well known indicators of a liar or a Mr/Ms No Good:

  1. The profile picture or description looks too good to be true.
  2. He or she wrote you, despite the fact that you live thousands of miles apart.
  3. The picture looks old (look at the clothing, the background, etc.)
  4. The writing does not match the person’s alleged age, job situation or academic level.
  5. He or she is 40 something and has never been married or had a committed, long-term relationship.
  6. He or she does not want to give you their private email address or real name after several apparently great online encounters.
  7. He or she is not all that interested in meeting face-to-face.
  8. He or she is sharing too many private pictures with you way too quickly.
  9. He or she is using the “L” word before you have even met.
  10. He or she suggests meeting at a motel or your place (or his or hers) on your first date.

If someone passes the initial online “test,” and you agree to a first date, here are some further things to watch out for:

  1. The obvious: The person looks nothing like his or her picture, is clearly older than you thought or has a very different personality from the one expressed online.
  2. He or she is married (and didn’t tell you).
  3. There are indications of verbal abuse or control issues on the first date.
  4. He or she does not seem to be listening to what you are saying.
  5. You have a feeling that something is wrong (trust your gut instinct!).
  6. He or she is over-complimenting you.
  7. You are promised things that seem unbelievable to you.
  8. The conversation is centered around issues of marriage and kids.
  9. There is lots of talk of relationships that didn’t work out or girlfriends/boyfriends who were absolutely horrible.
  10. He or she insists on going back to a motel or your place (or his or hers) at the end of your first date.

If things seem a little off on the first date, don’t hesitate to end it prematurely. If you feel threatened, excuse yourself (say that you need to go to the restroom) and then ask the waiter or waitress to call a cab. If you feel seriously threatened, don’t go back to the table and let the staff know.

Berit "Brit" Brogaard is the author of On Romantic Love

Catalina L. Toma, Jeffrey T. Hancock. What Lies Beneath: The Linguistic Traces of Deception in Online Dating Profiles. Journal of Communication, 2012; 62 (1): 78 DOI:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01619.x