With the rapid progression of technology, meeting people has never been easier. Gone are the days when you had to rely on random meetings in a bar, blind dates or hook-ups from friends. With the popularity of social networks like Facebook, it is easier to reconnect with people whom you have not seen for years or make new connections with strangers. With social media networks having a prominent place in our lives, it is not surprising that more and more people of all age groups are opting to try online dating rather than rely on traditional methods.
In the United States alone, 41.2 million people have tried online dating, 47.6 percent of those are female. . The popularity of online dating is constantly on the increase and the industry generates over $1.2 billion in annual revenue. Between December 26 and February 14, these dating sites see on average a 25 – 30 percent increase in activity.
However, as the popularity of online dating increases so does the level of scams and fraudulent activity.
“With the rise in online dating memberships, fraudsters have also joined in order to play the numbers game,” said Molly O’Hearn, Vice President of Operations at iovation. “The one thing that online dating scammers have in common is that their preferred target demographic is vulnerable and trusting people with a limited social circle or support group.” According to the FBI, the most common targets are “women over 40 who are divorced, widowed, and/or disabled,” however every demographic and age-group could potentially fall victim to these fraudulent activities.
In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission received 10,263 complaints related to so-called “romance scams.” These scams cost the victims an estimated $105 million.
According to iovation, in 2014 just 1.37 percent of all transactions on online dating sites were fraudulent, while during the month of love this figure rose to 1.46 percent, and on Valentine’s Day the figure was 1.41 percent.
According to identity theft expert Robert Siciliano, “Millions of people use online dating sites to broaden their networks and meet potential mates, but not everyone on these sites are sincere—some are scammers hoping to lure you in with false affection, with the goal of gaining your trust, and eventually, your money.”
Top five fraud types that occur on online dating sites (listed from most to least perpetrated):
- Scams/solicitations: users take advantage of the online community either to promote nonexistent services and products, or to solicit services from legitimate members.
- Spam: is the act of sending unwanted bulk messages to promote other products, companies or websites. These messages are sent via instant message, emails or postings, with the intention to get you to buy something.
- Credit card fraud: using fake or stolen credit cards, cybercriminals set up multiple or premium accounts in order to scam users.
- Profile misrepresentation: this is when fraudsters post inaccurate information on their profile. Catphishing, a recently coined term, refers to these false online identities in order to deceive people and ultimately steal their information, their money or both. These catphishers will also use fake photos to entice you further.
- Identity mining: using phishing, keystroke logging, creating fake business websites, etc. scammers can acquire personal information.
“Scammers used to build relationships only to later repeatedly solicit funds, but now they are causing even more harm,” said O’Hearn. “Acts of blackmail are rapidly increasing. Fraudsters build trust until they convince individuals to send compromising photos or video, and then blackmail their victim with threats to send the media to friends and family if they don’t send money. It’s very important that online daters understand the typical scenarios that put them at risk and watch safety videos provided by the dating sites.”
How to protect yourself during online dating
Protect your finances
Make sure you ignore all requests to send money to a person you met on an online dating site. You should also be sure to never send financial information like social security number, credit card number or bank information, to people you don’t know and have never met in person.
One horror story included a 70-year old woman who ended up sending $300,000 to a person she met online, but had never met in person.
Safeguard other personal and online access information
You are in charge of your online dating experience, so you should be careful about sharing other personal information, like full name, phone number, email and physical address, until you feel comfortable.
Be cautious and use common sense
Be wary of any communication that sounds too good to be true, asks for personal information or asks you to act immediately. There are certain red flags that should alert you immediately that something isn’t quite right, these include:
- Asks for money
- Wants to communicate on an outside email or messaging service straight away
- Claims to be recently windowed
- Claims to be from the U.S., but is currently living or working abroad
- Vanishes from the dating site and then reappears under a new name
- Talks about “fate” or “destiny” or declares instant feelings of love
- Sends you emails with links to strange third-party websites
- Asks for your physical address under the pretext of wanting to send you flowers
- Makes an excessive amount of spelling and grammar mistakes
“Online dating fraud is a very real threat and can happen to anyone,” said Stephen Dorr, Founder and CEO of North Star Integrity. “The sheer number of scammers has risen dramatically over the past few years. Some may lead their victim on for months or even years to build trust, or they may strike immediately. Unfortunately it can be difficult to determine who you can and cannot trust, but there are various warning signs to look for and services to help you.”
However, these statistics shouldn’t put you off online dating. It is possible to find love online with someone whose intentions are just as pure as yours.