As Valentine’s Day approaches, here are some timely tips to stop scammers from stealing more than just your heart.
February 05, 2024
7 minutes. read
Online dating has revolutionized the way people connect and find love. Now, any of us can browse an online catalog of potential love interests in the palm of our hand – no more terrible bar chat lines or being set up on awkward double dates with friends .
Not less than 350 million people used dating apps in 2022. Aside from being an easy way to share your dating profile with others, these apps also open up plenty of opportunities for scammers and hackers to exploit unsuspecting singletons. The popularity of dating apps and social media has made it easier than ever for fake suitors to find money.
The scenario in which, instead of finding love, lonely hearts end up with financial and emotional loss is more common than one might think. A United States Federal Trade Commission report found that romance scams cost nearly 70,000 people a staggering $1.3 billion in 2022. This doesn’t paint the full picture, however, as many victims of dating scams are too embarrassed to come forward.
To make matters even worse, many victims of romance fraud have also become involuntary silver mules. As seen in the crossover between romance and crypto scams known as pig butchery fraud (as well as by Sugar Daddy Scams), fraudsters are constantly adding new ingredients to proven recipes. And in another twist on dating fraud, scammers are increasingly eager to co-opt generative AI tools as a wingman to make their ruses more convincing, especially for pretend to be someone like Kevin Costner.
So if you’re going online looking for a romantic connection (but AI Companionship it’s not really your thing), what can you do to protect yourself from matches that you wrongly believe to be the love of your life? How do romance scammers and other threats on dating apps work?
1. Catfishing: creating false identities
One of the most common tactics scammers use on dating apps is catfishing: creating fake profiles in order to trick their partner into thinking they are someone else. These scammers often use stolen or stock photos and fabricated personal information to lure unsuspecting victims. There are many websites that use AI image generation to create photos of real people (who, as you might have guessed, don’t exist) that scammers can use to create a Realistic online personality.
The scammer would then use this persona to log in and message unsuspecting profiles and filter out viable targets. Once they determine whether their match is capable of giving them what they want, they will go to great lengths to build trust and mislead them into believing they are in a real relationship.
From this foundation of trust, the scammer can then financially exploit the victim, using fabricated stories of personal crises and fake emergencies accompanied by demands for money. The poor loved-up victim can then transfer money, buy them gifts, or even book a trip in hopes of supporting their “partner” and making their dream of true romance a reality.
And make no mistake, criminals do their research and can appear as authentic as any other profile on the market. They can go on social media to learn more about their target’s hobbies, beliefs and habits, using this information to give the illusion of shared interests, helping to create an even stronger bond. This bond then gives them more power of emotional manipulation.
How to protect yourself from catfishers?
It sounds simple, but when you’re lost in the romance department, it might not be your first thought to make sure the person you’re talking to is real. Whether it’s checking social media a bit, meeting in person, asking questions that require specific knowledge, or asking for proof of ID, all of these things will give you confidence that the tanned Caroline of Ohio is indeed the tanned Carolina of Ohio, not the mousey Clive of Seattle.
Glad they are who they say they are? Always be suspicious if they ask for money, favors or valuable information. They may be real people, but their intentions may not be. Far too often, people online are fooled by false sob stories that their online crush needs money to help pay their sick loved one’s medical bills, that their startup business isn’t doing as well as they hoped for it, or that they should take advantage of it. a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity.
2. Phishing attacks and malware distribution
As an online platform, dating apps provide an easy gateway for phishing attacks and malware distribution. Criminals can create profiles and send seemingly innocent messages containing malicious links or attachments, tricking hopeful singles into clicking on them. They can use bots to do this on a mass level and once clicked, these links lead to the installation of malware on the victim’s device. Once the malware is installed, any personal information or data stored on the device is compromised, significantly increasing the risk of identity theft and credit card fraud.
How can you protect yourself?
At the start of a conversation, before knowing a little more about your partner, do not open or click on the links they send. Even if it seems like an innocuous link to a popular restaurant you mention in your profile, scammers can get creative with their domain names to make the links even more tempting and authentic. Wait a while until you can be sure that you trust your partner before exploring sharing links and exploring areas of the Internet together.
3. Data collection for blackmail purposes
Online dating platforms store a lot of personal information, making them attractive targets for hackers. A a Guardian journalist discovered it that through his Tinder profile, the app collected around 800 pages of data about him, including his likes, interests, photos, friends and romantic preferences.
Fraudsters may use tactics like data mining to extract this sensitive information from people’s profiles. Furthermore, incidents in which such information is exposed to the public are also not uncommon. For example, 260,000 people had their images and private chat logs exposed after a publicly accessible database for a dating app was discovered. found exposed to the public Last year.
How can you protect yourself?
These days, it’s often a compromise. Many apps require access to some of your data to provide you with the required functionality and experience. However, it is important to be aware what data is collected and how it is used. Consider staying away from apps that don’t let you opt out of sharing data with third parties.
Also, be aware that once you publish the information, there’s not much you can do. So the best thing you can do is be careful about what you share online. Don’t post or delete anything that could be used against you (those cringeworthy videos you took at a friend’s house in Vegas can come back to haunt you in more ways than you think).
It can take an even uglier turn (and end up being a huge payday for the scammer) if you give in to the temptation of sending your racy photos or videos to your crush. This especially happens to young people and often starts with the fake suitor sharing “their own” explicit photos and asking for similar photos of their brands in return. If you oblige, the blackmail begins – the fraudster will threaten to share the material with your contacts on social networks, unless you pay or send more compromising photos or videos.
HAS avoid sextortion, never upload photos that you would be embarrassed to see posted online. Likewise, do not share sexual images or pose naked in front of a webcam.
4. Location-based threats
Many dating apps use location services to connect with other hopeful singles nearby. While this feature makes it easier for users to find potential matches nearby, it also opens the door to potential threats. Hackers can leverage location data to track and target individuals, leading to real security concerns.
How can you protect yourself?
Okay, let’s say you don’t want to turn off location services on your online dating journey because you want to meet someone just down the street, not halfway around the world. A compromise might be to turn off location services when you’re not actively browsing or scrolling through matches. This removes that extra bit of vulnerability that makes you a more attractive target for internet users with bad intentions, when you should just be focusing on being a more attractive target for romance.
As the popularity of online dating continues to grow (it is predicted to more than 450 million users by 2028), as is the risk of becoming the target of scams and hacks. For those navigating the world of online dating, suspicious connections and uncertainty about your partner’s true identity should be at the top of your list of red flags (perhaps even above “n ‘don’t like dogs’).
If something seems unusual or “not quite right,” report your correspondence immediately and block it. But all is not gloomy, with more 70% of people who date online say they have found a romantic relationship, it is clear that online dating can be extremely effective! So we should all work together to make platforms as safe and enjoyable as possible. Who knows, your true love might be within reach…