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"A lot of people think this only happens to dumb people, and they can tell if they're talking to a bot," says Steve Baker, a lead investigator for the Federal Trade Commission tells me. The people running these scams are professionals, they do this for a living."The scam starts with creating a chat bot, which is easier than you'd think. The Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, or ALICE, which generates scripts for chatterbots, has been around for decades.These programs can be modified for any purpose, though designing a believable online dating companion can take considerable time and effort — perhaps too much for some of the troops at Ashley Madison.When he saw an ad for the dating site Ashley Madison, which boasted 36 million members and the tagline, "Life is short, have an affair," he decided to check it out. Everyday, he received more of these come-ons — until he finally said, "Fuck it." "I'm like, ' Hey, all these women want to talk with me,'" he recalls. As anyone who's dated online knows, this is not entirely unusual. "I just figured they're not interested anymore," Russell says."' Let me go ahead and put in my credit card information.'"Russell paid 0 for 1,000 credits, which he could spend on sending replies or virtual gifts. After a few months of rejection, he didn't bother to log back on Ashley Madison again.(Both sides agreed to drop the suits early last year.) Despite the controversy, the company subsequently attempted to streamline its bot-creation process.Internal documents leaked during the Ashley Madison hack detail how, according to a 2013 email from managing director Keith Lalonde to then-CEO Noel Biderman, the company improved sex machine production for "building Angels enmass [sic]." This was done, Lalonde wrote, because the staff was getting "writers block when making them one at a time and were not being creative enough." (Reps for Ashley Madison did not return requests for comment)."It's been a cat and mouse game for 20 years."And it's not a game he always wins.The company suffered a massive hack that exposed the profiles of an estimated 3.5 million members — which generated international headlines by revealing high-profile kink-seekers on Capitol Hill, in Hollywood and higher education.
But what's truly phenomenal is the durability of this online hustle, and the millions of saps still falling for it.
Last July, he found out that he wasn't the only one getting the silent treatment.