Clever Copycats: Online profiles are being stolen, cut and pasted
These identity thieves don't want your money. They want your quirky sense of
humor and your cool taste in music.
Among the 125 million people in the U.S. who visit online dating and
social-networking sites are a growing number of dullards who steal personal
profiles, life philosophies, even signature poems. "Dude u like copied my
whole myspace," posts one aggrieved victim.
Copycats use the real-life wit of others to create cut-and-paste personas,
hoping to land dates or just look clever.
Hugh Gallagher, a 36-year-old writer in New York, is one of the copied.
.com has more than 50 profiles with parts of Mr. Gallagher's college
entrance essay, which he wrote nearly 20 years ago and which later appeared
in Harper's Magazine. "I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees" and "I
write award-winning operas" are among Gallagher's most popular lines.
They worked well enough for Jim Carey, a 38-year-old pharmaceutical salesman
in Bothell, Wash. He said he wanted women to know that he was funny but was
too lazy to think up anything. So he copied Gallagher's essay for his online
profile. A year ago, he arranged to meet a woman for drinks. She asked about
his operas. He confessed. "I felt like a balloon deflating," he said.
Original souls who discover that they have been replicated said it's
unethical and creepy. "I came across a guy who completely stole my profile
message," posts one woman in Michigan. "I mean he had to have copied and
pasted the whole thing and then just changed gender specific things to fit
Online daters feel pressure to stand out and believe they must sell
themselves like a product, say researchers at Georgetown, Rutgers and
Michigan State universities who are conducting a joint study of them. "You
are not making money off of somebody else's work; you're just trying to
market yourself," said self-confessed copier Jeff Picazio, a 40-year-old
computer-systems manager in Boynton Beach, Fla. After hunting for some
copy-and-paste help - including borrowing the line "you will soon learn that
I'm a raging egomaniac" - Picazio said he's gotten 20 dates.
A search on MySpace.com brought up more than 700 recent comments that accuse
others of stealing headlines, user names, songs, background designs and
entire profiles. In a recent survey of more than 400 online daters
commissioned by Engage.com, 9 percent of respondents said they copied from
another person's profile; 15 percent suspect their own words were stolen.
A Match.com profile of a man in Redmond, Wash., includes this postscript:
"Shame on the woman who plagiarized my narrative and stole it for her
profile!" And a 34-year-old woman in Basking Ridge, N.J., tacked this P.S.
to her Plentyoffish.com profile: "To the girl who copied my profile - and
denies it ... you s-!"
The quest for originality has spawned the services of online-dating coaches
and profile writers. Some of them are victims, too. Dave Mizrachi, 34, of
Miami sells an "Insider Internet Dating" course for $97. Mizrachi includes
his own dating profile, advising men to use it as a guide. But at least 25
people on Match.com have stolen his lines, including: "I get a lot of women
e-mailing me, (which is great for an ego boost)." One man uses Mizrachi's
A recent search on Match.com brought up more than 90 profiles with such
lines as: "I want an opposite. A yin to my yang," or "You know that woman
who is the first person on the dance floor at every party? That's me." They
weren't even from real people. They were cribbed from sample profiles posted
online at E-Cyrano.com by Evan Marc Katz, a dating coach and profile writer.
"It just seems so short-sighted," said Katz, of Los Angeles. "Everybody
steals the same lines so they are not original anymore."
The Internet makes plagiarism anonymous and easy. Nearly half of high-school
students and nearly 40 percent of college undergrads confess they copy
online sources, according to surveys conducted by Donald McCabe, a founder
of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University in South
Carolina. Stealing for appearance sake is a new twist. "People are still
trying to develop a sense of how to present themselves online," said Joseph
Walther, a communication professor at Michigan State University.
The book Online Dating for Dummies tells readers not to fret about copying.
ProfileCoach.com, meanwhile, offers 12 "proven" profiles for $4. Sample:
"There is a shallowness, a fakeness to much of the 'singles scene.'" A
number of blogs offer free headlines for social-networking profiles,
including, "Ernie's train of thought has derailed." For $50, weeklyscore.com
offers 20 personal essays and 100 headlines, all updated weekly.
Thierry Khalfa said he had a good excuse to copy. His English isn't so good.
Khalfa, a 44-year-old Frenchman, first cobbled a ho-hum profile that said he
liked to cook and enjoyed walks on the beach. Then he stumbled across the
profile of Mike Matteo, 47, a screenwriter in Tampa, Fla. Matteo's profile
had such nuggets as, "I have a sweet tooth, love my strawberry twizzlers and
cheesecake jelly beans."
Without thinking twice, Khalfa said, he copied Matteo's prose because it
also fit him to a tee. "That guy should be proud," said Khalfa, of Largo,
Fla., who runs an auto-glass business. "In France, in the fashion business,
when you see something that looks good, you take it and you copy it."
Khalfa caught the eye of preschool teacher Marjorie Coon, 48. They exchanged
e-mails, and Coon wanted to meet Khalfa. Then she discovered he had copied
the profile of Matteo, by coincidence her friend. She let Khalfa know she
knew and dumped him. "I felt he was less than honest, a manipulator and
downright stupid," said Coon, of Largo, Fla. Matteo wasn't too happy,
either. "I'm not Cyrano de Bergerac," he said, referring to the 19th-century
play about a man penning love letters for a rival.
Some copiers are harder to figure out. Cambria Lovelady, a 31-year-old
editor in Austin, Texas, went on two dull dates with a man and afterward
reread his online profile. He had copied her entire "About Me" paragraph.
Tracing authorship can be complicated. Chele Frizell, a 34-year-old nurse in
Dayton, Ohio, swiped a MySpace.com headline from a friend: "Those who
believe in telekinesis, raise my hand." She confessed her theft in a missive
to the MySpace page of Holly Payne, 34, of Hollywood. "I totally copied your
headline, but in Spanish. Does that still count?" Not really. Ms. Payne
stole it from the late Kurt Vonnegut.
Chris Garansi, an electrician in Rock Hill, S.C., said he has received about
10 e-mails asking permission to copy his dating profile, which is headlined,
"Wanted outlaw princess." Said princess is someone who "while climbing a
tree can be all woman, while letting you know she can climb higher than you
would ever dare." Among Garansi's requirements: "Chunky is fine but lumpy is
how I like my mashed potatoes, and rolls are only good when served with
dinner." He says he refuses people who ask to copy his work. "Either they
lack imagination, or they just don't know who they are," said Garansi, 43.
Online administrators said that complaints of copied profiles are rare. If a
profile is sufficiently creative, its author could theoretically sue a
copier under copyright law. But lawyers said it would be expensive. "As a
practical matter, what you would probably try to do is try to get the site
to take the copier's profile down," said Jeffrey Neuburger, of law firm
Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner LLP. Some sites say they do that.
Last year, JDate.com released online dating tips, including the importance
of a strong "About Me" paragraph.
Yahoo Personals provides two examples with the plea, "Don't copy these
profiles exactly." But a quick search shows plenty have. A favorite among
women: "If you love mushroom ravioli, romantic nights by a fire, and spring
camping trips, please reply." And for men: "I guarantee I can change the oil
in your car in 10 minutes flat."
Laurie Crane said three men copied her profile, apparently thinking that it
would spark her interest. One wrote, "We have a lot in common." Crane, a
43-year-old art director in Chicago, didn't date any of them. "Who knows
what these guys are thinking," she said.
Finding her profile stolen angered Lavonna Short, of Sitka, Alaska. It also
gave her pause. Short, a 47-year-old mental-health professional, said that
the thief used every qualification she had written about her perfect mate -
financially secure, able to take care of himself, not looking for a mother.
It read like a shopping list, she said. "When I saw myself through someone
else's eyes, I didn't like it." She rewrote her profile - more mystery, less
rigidity - and found her mate.