Every day, two or three extremely attractive 20-something girls friend me on Facebook. I say “girls” and not “women” because when you’re a middle-aged man, anybody who’s still carrying a college ID is a girl. Now, for perspective, I’m an overweight and mostly bald ground-dwelling mammal who’s legally blind without corrective lenses, so obviously, I’m a catch. After all, that must be all these young girls want, to flirt with me, right?

In a word, no.

Being a grown-up means understanding that the stripper isn’t talking to you when she asks you if you want a lap dance. She’s talking to your wallet. She’s talking to that googly-eyed pile of money that used to feature in Geico’s insurance commercials. Younger guys can walk into a strip club and entertain the fantasy that these attractive women might actually be interested in them. Middle-aged guys who have the maturity to match know that they’ve got nothing to offer except the contents of their bank account. Those same middle-aged men, when they receive a friend request from an attractive young female, immediately delete that request. Like the old joke, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member,” any 20-something girl who looks like a model and sends me a friend request is obviously a fake profile. She’s not real. She’s probably not even female.

No, strike that: There’s no “probably” about it. There’s another old joke: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Well, on the Internet, there’s almost no chance – none whatsoever – that an attractive woman who initiates a conversation with any man (who isn’t also young and attractive) is actually a woman. Just what lies behind these scams varies from person to person. Confidence games and opportunities for identity theft abound. In many cases, the “women” who contact you unsolicited through social media subsequently send private messages containing invitations to email or chat offline. Clicking the links they provide could link you to a virus download or might simply take you to a paid porn site. There is a struggling underclass of would-be porn stars out there trying to drum up paid memberships for their exclusive websites; this is one way they find customers.

Some of the unsolicited messages are more sinister. In at least one case – there are probably more – a married man started receiving messages from an attractive woman on Facebook. She then started sending naked pictures of herself. When the scam artist judged the “relationship” had gone on long enough, the man was told he needed to pay several thousand dollars in extortion money or his wife would be sent the chat logs of the messages.

This is a variation on the “ransomware” theme, another story that broke in recent weeks. Users who downloaded a porn-viewing application for their phones or tablets unwittingly gave that application permission to use their devices’ front-facing cameras. While the application was in use, it was also snapping images of the users’ faces. You can imagine the troubling expressions such images might capture. The unfortunate souls who had downloaded this app were then informed, through the app, that they had to pay money or their embarrassing pictures would be released to the public.

If this sounds particularly brazen to you, it shouldn’t. Telephone scams have been part of society for decades. Just a few months ago, a coworker seated across the aisle from me received a phone call purporting to be from the IRS. He was told he had to make a payment over the phone (for some specific amount, say $900) or he would be immediately arrested. We had a good laugh about the fact that a black SUV from the IRS Criminal Investigation Division must be sitting in the parking lot revving its engine. My coworker refused to pay; nothing happened. Last week, I got a phone call from a call center in India telling me, in the thickest and most stereotypical accent imaginable, that Microsoft had identified a problem with my computer. I laughed so hard that the scammer on the other end actually started laughing too before we bid each other cordial good-byes. So common have these scams become that we barely give them a second thought.

Why, then, are we so stupid when it comes to fake “women” online? David Gunkel, for WNIJ News, commented recently on the Ashley Madison hacking incident. “Recent reports have targeted [Ashley Madison’s] use of chat bots and fake profiles,” Gunkel explains. “These ‘fembots,’ as they are being called, were simple pre-fabricated computer scripts. The bots were designed to initiate an amorous exchange with male users in hopes of moving them into the ranks of paying customers.” Gunkel, however, highlights the fact that the widespread fraud – tricking men into believing they could meet attractive women, when in fact the site had almost no female users – should not be what concerns us most. “What is truly revealing about these fembots is that they worked, and they worked even though the programming was rather simple, somewhat shoddy, and even stupid. A significant number of male users found these chatterbots engaging – so much so that they shared intimate secrets with them and, most importantly, took out the credit card in hopes of continuing the conversation.”

If indeed “hope springs eternal in the human breast,” nowhere in our society are humans more optimistic than in the belief that attractive women are waiting impatiently to talk to them. It wasn’t true in the ’90s when phone sex commercials proliferated on late night television – and it isn’t true now. That beautiful woman who just friended you on Facebook is a stock photo. If that account is a person and not a computer program, he looks just like you. He wants your money or he wants your identity. Like the stripper, he’s not talking to you; he’s lying to your wallet in hopes of getting in its figurative pants.

The Internet is not a bar on Ladies’ Night. It is not even a strip club. It is a dangerous place full of liars, scammers and “fembots” who will do whatever it takes to steal from you. Remember that each and every time you turn on your device.

Media wishing to interview Phil Elmore, please contact [email protected].

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