The impact of dating apps, and the associated lying, is only going to grow. Picture: Reuters

Washington - Anyone who uses an online dating site - Tinder, Bumble and the rest - quickly learns that people don't always look like their photos, they sometimes add an inch or two to their height, and maybe they fudge their weight. 

One study found that 80 percent of people lie in their profiles. Many falsehoods are mild, easy to see through within seconds of meeting someone in person, and do little harm.

But other lies are more dangerous: They become instruments of sexual fraud. A 44-year-old woman from Canterbury, in Britain, for example, fell in love with a man who told her he was a single businessman who often traveled for work. 

A year later, she learned that he was a married London lawyer using a fake name, who was also sleeping with several other women whom he had apparently tricked in the same way.

There have always been people who tell lies to get sex, but apps make it easy to deceive victims on an unprecedented scale, and in relative anonymity, well outside the perpetrators' social circles. 

Yet we punish low-level shoplifting, or false claims in commercial advertising, more harshly than we punish most forms of sexual deception, despite the suffering and harm to one's dignity the latter brings. 

For a woman in her late 30s or early 40s who wants to marry and have children, the "opportunity cost" of a fraudulent relationship can add another dimension to the pain in the form of diminished fertility.

One way to measure dating-app fraud would be to look for information that (1) was misleading and (2) involved one or more material facts about a person that (3) a reasonable person could have used to decide whether to engage in sexual intercourse. 

While such legal intervention wouldn't capture every possible form of sexual fraud (think of lies that originated in a bar rather than on an app), these measures would make a real dent in addressing some of the large-scale problems in today's dating marketplace.

The impact of dating apps, and the associated lying, is only going to grow. By 2013, one-third of married Americans had met their spouses online, and it is estimated that by 2040, more than two-thirds of people will have met their significant others that way. (I found my own husband on Bumble.) 

But even as apps amplify the harms caused by lies, they make documenting lies easier, because people's misleading profiles can be reviewed, and text messages repeating the lies can be saved.

Perhaps all seduction involves embellishment - after all, isn't makeup or a push-up bra trickery, when the truth might be disappointing? But lies exist on a spectrum, as the law around false advertising already recognizes. 

Most people understand that there is no right to have sex with a particular person - or with anyone at all, if nobody is willing. The #MeToo movement rightly subjects all sorts of behaviors in the dating arena to greater questioning, and the legal boundaries in this context are up for fresh discussion. 

How to handle sexual fraud in the age of Tinder should be a part of those debates.

The Washington Post