So Where’s the Harm?

These networking sites are quite interesting. They provide venues in order to meet new people. If your interests match, it’s entirely possible to strike up an online friendship. And that can lead to gaining information you want but would not have otherwise been able to receive.

Networking can consist of meeting new people for the sake of friendship, making business connections, creating a web of associates and colleagues without having to join a professional organization, finding a date or a new love prospect, or building some type of alliance with others. The fact that there is an effort to network and connect with others for a particular purpose is usually plain and the type of connection is also rather transparent. As I said, however, these networking sites seem to be evolving into creating a different sort of connection, one with an unspoken purpose. It’s making me wonder about the genuineness of the parties on the site.

In the last several months, I made a unique discovery about some of the participants. Although the particular application was focused on dating, some of the newcomers would hold theirselves out as single for the sake of the venue. But when their profiles were more closely examined, it was as plain as the day is long that they are married. It seemed a bit odd that these men would misrepresent their availability to others. It could have been that the sites and applications just didn’t see far enough to include a relationship category for “divorcing” or “separated” or other tip-off language. Instead, we got things like “it’s complicated” for whatever that means.

For whatever reason, these men are not only holding theirselves out as available for intimate relationships, they are also withholding some additional information. But before I explore that dimension of the question, let us also explore a few other things that are happening on the sites.

Since many of these are social networking sites, people are real world friends but desire a means of staying in touch as they move to distant locations. Perhaps they were classmates in school but graduation and jobs (and marriage) have swallowed up the neophytes. As the name implies for Facebook, they want more than just a picture book to help them stay connected. And as their professional lives evolve, new friends are included in their networks as well as contacts for potential job opportunities. They want easy access to those new associates.

So recruiters started invading the space in order to “source” for the talent and get leads on others who are just as good or even better. Would it be necessary to represent to others that you’re single if you’re actually a recruiter looking for career talent? It makes you wonder what type of approach recruiters have been using to get the alumni to open up to them and be receptive to their overtures of potential job interviews and offers. It’s entirely possible that the recruiters were even holding theirselves out to be fellow classmates but in different classes in order to qualify for the camaraderie. Then there’s also the question of whether the recruiters even told their audiences that they were recruiters.

That thought had to be tossed aside. The USC students were more than receptive to all manner of folk using the Starbucks for business purposes. One’s capacity as a student wasn’t important. And if they discovered you just might have a finger on the employment pulse, your value as a contact increased exponentially. No. It was hard to imagine recruiters who were pretending to be other students.

There were a few students who expressed some distaste for having their privacy invaded with recruiters and hiring managers who would pry into their profiles and friends’ profiles under the guise of searching for talent. They argued that what they did in their private space had absolutely nothing to do with their business endeavors nor how they conduct theirselves at work. They objected to any type of invasion.

These ways of interacting with others became a fascinating construct. Holding oneself out as a fellow student was one thing. Pretending to be single when in fact you’re married was yet another curious practice. What purpose these misrepresentations held was a mystery. The advantage gained by using these cloaks was also obscure.

Could it be that covering one’s real capacity was useful because the purpose in being on the site was not to source for talent but instead, sell some type of service to the students? I discovered several sales people hawking their wares and promoting their websites. Well that’s not right! It’s important to be forthright about your identity and purposes.

This was when the contemplations of these distortions began. The first thought was that these were acts of fraud and fraud in the inducement. Maybe that was going a bit far. Considering the four elements of fraud (scienter, intent, reliance, and damages), it could be considered a real reach to say that a married man pretending to want a date is committing fraud.

Considering what’s happening (just talking to folks and learning about one another) and the consequences, maybe this is actually a mere case of misrepresentation. Still, misrepresentation is calling into play acts of intentional misstatement of fact, that tends to mislead, while inducing another to act on those representations as true when they otherwise would not have acted, and those acts resulted in damages. The pivotal issue is whether there was any damage or not.

In the realm of dating, it could be argued that there will never be damages because of a mere representation that one is single when they are not. But in a dating relationship, trust is growing and reliance on the representations that are made that would ordinarily be the foundations of creating a bond. To that extent, the fraud could form the basis of causing the uninformed party to give things or forbear having other things in order to help the one who is the fraud. Relying on a trusting relationship, the uninformed may purchase goods and services or invest in various types of assets that they would not have otherwise considered. In that regard, the false identity of “single” has been an inducement and motivated action that probably would not have happened.

Compare the above conclusion with the formal definition and explanation of fraud. They seem to come to the same conclusion. But there’s one niggling thing about this analysis that deserves additional attention. That is whether the definition of a scam is the same as fraud or is part of a fraud. What I learned from studying two definitions is that a scam is another word for fraud can involve a third party to the wrong who is identified as the shill or the one who attempts to give credence to the transaction based on their [false] testimony regarding the value and veracity of the deal or good that the two are attempting to induce the target to take.

What are some solutions to the scam, the fraud, the misrepresentation? Wikipedia talks about the scam baiter, the one who wastes the scamer’s time and thereby prevents them from victimizing others while also frittering away not only their time but their money.

Is the recruiter on social networking sites trying to induce job seekers to give up their money? Another very legitimate question is whether the recruiter who never seems to get the job order is actually committing fraud if their failure to act is causing the job seeker to hold out for this very lucrative situation that just hasn’t come through yet. I would say, a reasonably prudent person would take steps to protect their own interests and not rely on some distant, future promise. In fact, we are told under the law of fraud that a future promise will cause the case for fraud to fail.

Is the case of false identity a fraud or a scam. Well, it depends on the overall goal of the false identity.

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