Roses are red, violets are blue, watch out for these scams or it may happen to you
The embrace of online dating services, such as dating apps or virtual places to meet people, is a phenomenon that has occurred worldwide. According to GlobalWebindex, in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region, apps and dating sites are accepted at about 45%, while in the United States and Europe the figure is about 28%.
Currently, more than 40% of single men used an app or a dating site in the last month, says GlobalWebIndex. There are dozens of dating apps available; some operate globally, while others only work in some countries that have greater acceptance of them. But without a doubt, two of the most popular applications among the extensive great offerings that exist are Tinder and Happn, which claim more than 50 million users each.
Although these apps and sites have the potential to bring great happiness into the lives of their customers, there is a darker side as well: scammers abuse these services to their own nefarious ends, leading to heartbreak both emotionally and financially for the scammers’ victims.
Multiple forms of deception
Although they come in different flavors, in most cases the criminals committing romance scams study the profiles of their victims and collect personal information, such as their work activity, their level of income, and their lifestyle, because the mismanagement of our personal information in the digital age allows a criminal to build a fairly detailed profile of a future victim.
One of the most common methods is the scammer who emotionally manipulates the victim to send them money, gifts or personal information. Another type of common deception is sextortion, which usually begins as a normal relationship between two people who begin to know each other until the scammer tries to take the conversation off the dating platform, such as, for example, to WhatsApp. Here, the criminal will try to convince the victim to send some risqué photos or intimate videos … and then use that salacious materiel to blackmail the victim.
Last month, for example, in the United States a man who was the victim of this type of scam – he related an attack strategy similar to that in a case reported in Chile in 2018 – after having met the person through an online dating site and gained his trust, the scammer requested the sending of intimate photos. Shortly after they were sent, the victim received a message from a man claiming to be the father of a minor and who threatened to file charges against him for sending a child an explicit image, unless he sent him two prepaid ‘money cards’ with US$300 each. The victim was informed that it was a hoax after he had contacted the police.
Another scam is known as ‘catfishing’, which is luring the victim into a relationship based on the attacker’s fictitious online persona.
Scams related to online dating: A global phenomenon
In Australia in 2018 there were a reported 3,981 cases of scams related to online dating through social networks, and dating apps or websites, which represented losses of more than AU$24 million; and so far in 2019, 349 cases have already been recorded, with losses equivalent to more than AU$1 million, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reports.
In the United Kingdom, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) stated that in 2017, on average, every three hours a case of fraud related to online dating was reported, while more recent figures from Action Fraud revealed that in all of 2018 more than 4,500 complaints of online romance fraud were filed and it estimated that 63% of the victims were women, the BBC reported.
Cases from around the world
A case in Spain occupied the headlines of several media outlets when a man nicknamed the King of Tinder, was arrested in 2018. Using techniques similar to other fraudsters, this criminal knew his victims through dating apps like Tinder or Meetic, he gained their trust to the point that his victims sent him money after he fed them stories of bogus problems relating to his ‘family’.
Recently, in Canada, the story of a senior who spent his life savings and then borrowed against his house as a result of a “romantic scam” came to light. The 67-year-old widower who met a scammer claiming to be someone called Sophia Goldstein whom he met through the online dating site Match. Soon after establishing a relationship, the miscreant, who claimed to also be from Canada, began asking for financial help to solve various non-existent problems that the scammer invented. Over a period of eight months before he died, the victim made a total of 19 bank transfers of more than CA$730 thousand dollars to an account in Malaysia.
Latin America is no stranger to such scams; in 2017, the Argentine media published a scam using Tinder. After investigating several cases, they reported that victims were contacted by a person apparently seeking a serious relationship, but living far away.
These reports explained that the same MO was used in these cases: the scammer presented as an attractive woman, sent alluring pictures of herself to the victim, and eventually gained the victim’s trust. The scammer requested and received the victim’s phone number, then once trust was established, convinced the victim to send money with a promise to return the ‘loan’ once they finally met in person.
How to protect yourself
Users of online dating sites and apps should bear in mind that anyone can be deceived. Here are some recommendations to keep in mind.
- Look for inconsistences; if you find any, be cautious.
- Romance scammers tend to profess excessive romantic interest in their victims, and very quickly after “meeting” them.
- Scammers also tend to quickly try to move the discussion off the platform or app to some other form of messaging such as email, Skype, or a secure messaging app. This prevents any fraud detection systems employed by dating services or apps from monitoring their attempts to defraud their victims.
- It is common that after a while (weeks or months) and after having established some confidence, the person you know will tell you a very elaborate story that ends with a request for money, sending a gift or something similar. Never send money to someone you have met in an online dating scenario before getting to know them personally.
- Suspect anyone who always has an excuse to not meet in person.
- Never share with the person you are meeting, especially if you do not know them personally, information that may compromise you, such as photos or videos, your address, place of work or phone number.
- If you decide to meet someone in person that you’ve met online, be sure to set up the meeting in a safe, public place.