Here are some red flags that will help you to protect yourself while using dating apps
Dating apps are a modern way to meet a soulmate for young and elderly people alike. In 2021, over 323 million people worldwide used dating apps, with Tinder and Badoo being the most popular choices. The vast majority of matchmaking ends up in casual dating, but the number of romance scams is alarming as well.
In the past five years, people have reported losing a staggering $1.3 billion to romance scams. In 2021 alone, dating app and social media users reported record losses of $547 million due to romance scammers’ ingenuity. Moreover, interacting with strangers online can put you at risk of identity theft, online harassment, stalking, digital dating abuse, catfishing, and other scams.
The scammers’ stories might be very believable, but they all share common features.
Catfishing is a deceptive activity where a person creates a fictional persona or fake identity on a social networking service or a dating app, usually targeting a specific victim. The impersonator uses another person’s photos and life facts to make the profile appear credible. Often, the person whose data is used does not know that their pictures and name have got into the wrong hands. Sometimes, the photos and personal data are obtained through identity theft or data leaks. Some online users have utilised catfishing to explore their alternative gender and/or sexual identities. Others have tricked their victims with a fake identity for financial gain, or used the fictional profile for cyberbullying.
Denouncing a catfisher by checking the profile details may be challenging, as the impersonator uses sensitive information of an existing person. However, they must be reluctant to voice or video call, not to mention avoid in-person meet-ups. If you suspect that someone is catfishing, you may ask them about details that only people with their reported background would know. E.g. malls and restaurants from where they claim to come from, or something that people with a particular job description should know, etc. Please, mind that they can google the information, so pay attention to the speed of their replies or evasive answers. Besides, the impersonator is likely to only have one or two images of the person they’re pretending to be, so pay attention to the profiles with little imagery.
Tinder also has a photo verification feature that offers people the opportunity to take a photo of themselves in real-time. The app then matches this photo with the person’s profile to prevent catfishing. A blue checkmark appears on the profiles of those customers whose photos are verified.
Most scammers aim to get financial gain from communication with their victims. Sometimes, they ask for provocative pictures to later blackmail you, and threaten to show them to your friends and relatives unless you pay. The golden rule is to never ever send anything that may be harmful to your reputation to people you don’t know, whoever they claim to be.
Money requests can also be made more harmlessly, preying on your sense of compassion. If a love interest you’ve met online asks for money before you’ve met in person, it’s a huge red flag.
Some of the most common reasons they say they need money for include:
- Payment for travel expenses (they want to come and see you in person, but they live far away and have no money to buy a ticket).
- Payment for medical bills or other emergency expenses (sick family members are a common story).
- Payment for gambling or other types of debts so they can start over and begin a new life with you.
- Charity requests.
- Asking you to purchase gift cards or crypto on their behalf, wire them money, or return money to them from a cheque they’ve sent you – these suspicious schemes may have different explanations, but in reality, they are plain money laundering.
- With military romance scams, fraudsters pretending to be soldiers serving abroad ask for money to set up a reliable internet connection, pay for flights home or supplement supposed limitations on military medical coverage or retirement planning. In many cases, these scammers work with one or more accomplices who pose as doctors or lawyers to extract a steady stream of money.
Too close too soon
Time is money, so scammers won’t waste a lot of time before starting to fool you. They start “falling in love” too quickly, want to move to a more private communication platform too soon (texts, e-mails), and ask for your sensitive data such as an address, social security number, additional contact information, account details, as well as specific details regarding your life or work.
Therefore, don’t share too much in your conversations, do not rush to “befriend” the person on social media platforms, and continue communicating through the dating site or app until you’ve met your love interest in the flesh.
- When using a dating app, pay attention to its safety features. If there are no ways to report inappropriate messages or block people from contacting you, avoid using the service.
- Select an app that requires both people to declare an interest before messaging can take place.
- Report and block the suspicious or creepy behaving users, and toxic people.
- Make sure the app allows you to have some control over privacy settings (how much of your profile is visible, who sees your exact geolocation, who sees linked information from your social media accounts, etc).
- Choose a profile picture different from the one you use on social media accounts so that it will be harder to find your sensitive information.
- Carefully consider if you want to share data from your social media profiles at all. Malefactors may be able to track where you study or work and use it for stalking, use your pictures and pull your family and friends into the scam. You’d better keep the personal details available in-app to a minimum.
- Message one another inside the app, don’t share your phone number or contact e-mail before you trust the person. It may be inconvenient, but it’s a safer way to communicate.
- Instead of giving out your cell-phone number, consider getting a Google phone number and forwarding it to your phone. Check the Google Voice service for instructions.
- Avoid letting someone know where you live or work. Be careful with in-person meetings. Arrange the date in a public place. Let a close friend know where you are and when you plan to get home. Share as much information as possible with your friends should something go wrong. Consider an escape way if you feel uncomfortable. You may even consider bringing a self-defence tool such as pepper spray or a high-powered flashlight.
- If you’ve sent money to someone and realise it is a scam, contact your financial institution as soon as possible. Report the incident to the police or other related authorities as well. Your bank or credit union may be able to stop the transaction for you, or recover money on your behalf.