Fishing for partners? There's always a catch

Hi. My name is Charlie.

I have black hair and brown eyes, and I look a little like a demented serial killer (in a charming kind of way).

More importantly, I'm looking to hook up with a girl. Any girl.

Oh, did I mention that I'm married? Even better, you say?

Obviously, none of the above is true apart from me being married. That was my story when I signed up for an Ashley Madison account.

For research purposes, of course.

I found out quickly why so many men have apparently been lured to the site by the promise of easy liaisons with women.

Registration is free and it took me about the same amount of time to set up as my fake e-mail account on Gmail.

You are asked to key in some physical attributes (height, hair and eye colour, etc) and upload a profile picture (I used a stock photo).

The site even gives you an option to digitally mask your face with an actual digital mask, like a kinky Lone Ranger.

Less than an hour after I registered, I had a lovely lady (allegedly) who wanted to get to know me.

Her name was 1babe4you. She's 41, 1.68m tall, of medium build, and is also married.

At this point, I was thinking: "Wow. I'm a cyberstud muffin. There must be a catch somewhere."

And as soon as I clicked on her message, there it was - The Catch.

To see her e-mail, I needed credits, five to be exact.

And it just so happened that Ashley Madison had loads of it to sell to me. I could purchase 100 credits for just $99. Or, if I were the kind of guy who loves deals (I am), I could pay $479 for 1,000 credits.

Luckily, another user, kelly0105, sent me an e-mail I could read for free.

It read: "kelly0105 has indicated she is interested in someone just like you. You should send her a custom message to connect."

Hmm, maybe I should.

I ponder for 10 minutes about what I should send before settling on a sexy but dignified "Hi there."

I click "send". And there it is again - The Catch.

To send a message, I needed five credits as well.

I decided to find out more about kelly0105 to see what made her so special that I had to pay money to send her a message.

I clicked on her profile and attributes such as age, height, weight and status were "not specified".

The only attribute specified was gender, and it read "male".

I decided not to pay to find out who kelly0105 or 1baby4you were, but thousands of men before me might have.

Last year, Avid Life Media, the company behind the website, made US$115 million (S$161 million) in revenue from Ashley Madison, reported Bloomberg.

Its CEO, Mr Noel Biderman, told Business Insider that it expects revenue to surpass US$150 million this year because of the growth in female users.

Free for women

Only men have to pay to meet women on the site. Women aren't charged.

If you suddenly get cold feet and want to erase all traces of your infidelity, you'll have to cough up US$19 to "remove all traces of your usage".

But the data unearthed by hackers have thrown doubt on Mr Biderman's claims.

Before it was hacked, the site boasted it had a 70:30 male-to-female user ratio, with a one-to-one ratio for users under-30 years old. But of the 35 million user records leaked, only 5 million - or 15 per cent - belonged to women, reported The Washington Post.

Quoting dating site experts, the paper also said that many of the female profiles on Ashley Madison are fake, with people being paid to write them.

That might explain why kelly0105 and 1baby4you (neither had profile photos or any hint of online activity based on their profiles) wanted to get in touch with Charlie, my psychotic-looking alter ego.

It seems Charlie wasn't the cyberstud muffin I thought he was.

This article was first published on August 27, 2015.
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