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Online Dating Scam: Is Your Virtual Date a Scammer?

Pandemic loneliness is pushing thousands towards online dating applications, searching for a love connection. But, how many of them have found a true connection, and how many of them got scammed?

Online dating scams are costing unsuspecting victims millions of dollars every year. The pandemic has made the already dire situation worse.

Let’s look in-depth:

Online Dating Application Scam and Pandemic

The COVID pandemic has forced us into a whole new world. Over the last two years, a lot has changed from how we work to how we celebrate, even how we meet new people. Online dating has become the new way of building new connections.

Also Read: Entering the “Fourth Wave” of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Mental Health Edition

While dating applications have been around for a long time, the number of people signing up for these online applications has skyrocketed during the pandemic. For example:

  • In March 2020, Tinder recorded its highest swipes, of three billion
  • Between March and May 2020, dates on Ok Cupid increased by almost 700%
  • Bumble witnessed a 70% increase in video calls during the same period

People were lonely and free, furthermore, restrictions, lockdowns, the work-from-home format, and more fueled this surge. So, they were swiping left and right for a connection. But, the platform was not only seeing a surge of users but also scammers.

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Scamming a person online behind a screen, especially based on emotions, is not difficult, so is not faking an identity. Instead, scamster carry on phishing new victims, even multiple at a time, without the fear of being caught.

The pandemic has eased the way for romance scammers by making in-person meetings more difficult.

The Expensive Loss

Over the past three years, an increasing number of reports of romance scams and money fraud on dating applications have been making the news. In the first three quarters of 2021 alone, the Consumer Sentinel Database underlined $343 million worth of romance frauds in America, double from 2019.

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The figure would have hit $500 million by the end of the year. A certain age group lost significantly more money in these online dating scams. A report from the FTC finds that adults 60 and older in America have lost an estimate of $139 million to online romance scams, with a similar trend witnessed in the UK.

Online Dating Scams: A Brief Explanation

Online dating scams are a class of scammers who steal identities to lure their victims. They make a fake profile on every social media site from the stolen identity, then befriend real people and extort money with fake stories.

Also Read: Deepfake: The Most Dangerous Crime Of The Future

These could range from topping up their phone to asking money for some medical emergency to a variety of creative crises of draining money off your wallet. Unfortunately, in many instances, victims have also fallen for laundering money.

Who Do the Scammers Target?

Fraudsters target people from every demographic through every dating platform. Therefore, no one is safe from scammers regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, or preferred platform.

However, older people are more likely to be targeted than younger people. At the same time, vulnerable or isolated people are the biggest targets for long-term catfishing scams.

People aged between 55 and 64 were found particularly at risk. But, what does this entail? Do older people face difficulty in spotting impersonators? What makes them so vulnerable?

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Experts explain this phenomenon by highlighting the past relationships of the elderly, which make them more vulnerable to the compelling but fake promises of seamsters.

Studies have found that romance scammers more frequently targeted women above the age of 45. By the age of 45, most women settle down with decently paying jobs, making them alluring to the catfishers.

The rise of dating apps has allowed scammers to cast even wider nets for potential victims, automating much of the process using bots to lure victims into scams.

The Red Flags: How to Spot a Dating Scammer?

INTERPOL issued a Purple Notice to 194 member countries, highlighting the modus operandi for dating applications. Given the severity and widespread reports of dating scams, the notice underlines the growing threat of investment fraud.

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Regardless of the platform you are using, below are some of the red flags that dating scammers on every platform that you must lookout for a while chat with a person:

Off the Site

Most dating applications are aware of romance scams; that’s why they are always on the lookout for catfishers. This is why most scammers would persuade you to take the conversation off the site to some safer application or mediums like WhatsApp.

Also Read: Is WhatsApp Really Threatening Our Privacy: An Explainer

This way is one of the most commonly presented excuses: “My membership is about to expire,” “I’m not much active on this platform,” etc.

Inconsistent Story

Untruths can make it easy to forget what someone previously said. Scammers sometimes work together in teams, hiding behind a single identity. Therefore, if the person you are speaking with seems inconsistent, be suspicious. A part of their story that doesn’t match what they said previously may indicate something fishy behind the screen.

No Digital Footprint

Although some people don’t use social media and don’t want their personal information on the web, it can be concerning if you find don’t trace them online.

It All Comes Down to Money

In the end, the ultimate sign that a scammer is after your money is when they ask. Eventually, they will ask for money after all the manipulation and grooming- which may take weeks or months. So while they may provide various reasons, it goes without saying that your answer should be no.

Always be on the Lookout

Scammers are everywhere. Though the application and government try to keep the scammers out, you have to look out for yourself at the end of the day. Do a proper background check on the person before sharing any vulnerable information, and report the suspected accounts you encounter.