An investigation of the site’s user database found that there were 31 million profiles for men. However, only 20 million male “users” ever bothered to check their Ashley Madison message box even once, and only 11 million male users ever engaged the website’s chat function, even once. A lot of people clearly just signed up out of curiosity.

The database also shows that there were 5.5 million women on Ashley Madison-but when reporter Annalee Newitz drilled down into their user profiles, an astonishing number of these women appear to be fakes-that is, dummy accounts created by the Ashley Madison staff to make it look like there was a pool of women looking for action. And by “astonishing,” I mean that it looks like the number of real, live women using the site was somewhere between 1,500 and 10,000.

Which suggests that Ashley Madison might have been the greatest internet scam, ever. They suckered a couple million guys into paying a boatload of money to have affairs with women who were nothing more than sockpuppets of Ashley Madison employees…

But the true genius of the scam is that, as a friend of mine pointed out, once the men got wise to what Ashley Madison was doing, they had no recourse. These were married men looking to have affairs. They were never going to risk public exposure by trying to go after the site for scamming them. It’s the online dating equivalent of robbing a drug dealer.