Love is one of those universal themes that from time to time consume everyone. Online dating can help us to find love and happiness. On Monday, 14 February, once again love will be taking centre stage with Valentine's Day coming up. It's the day when many singles feel even lonelier than usual, so they are particularly active on the dating platforms. However, you should exercise caution, because instead of finding true love, you could also fall for a cybercriminal. There are many scammers on online dating platforms who try to win victims' hearts with the help of social engineering techniques. Find out in this blog article how the scams work and how you can be safe and still successful with online dating.
By comparing different sources, we can estimate that there is a fraudulent user behind 1 out of 10 profiles. Scams often start on the “serious” online dating sites. Along with the fraud cases, there is also the risk that fraudsters might use the scam to gain access to company data, particularly right now when many people are working from home and some of them are using their company equipment for personal use too. Apart from financial gain, companies also have another goal – collecting company data.
Online Dating – Phishing in the Sea of Love
Looking, swiping right, chatting – meeting? And falling in love! Tinder, Lovoo, Parship, Lovescout24 and Bumble are among the most popular dating platforms and apps, and not just in Switzerland. These sites can be an easy, relatively non-committal way of meeting new people provided the right precautions are taken, and users know how to protect their personal data. After all, when you've got butterflies in the tummy, your brain often switches off – and that's exactly what scammers will try to shamelessly exploit.
For example, potential victims of fake profiles are contacted on dating apps like Tinder. Once initial contact is established, the conversation usually soon moves onto other messenger apps like WhatsApp. The conversation can go on for weeks, even months, thus building up a sense of trust. The scammers then give their victims “tips” for profitable investments, for example. Of course, the purported winnings are never actually paid out, or the scammers try to shift the dialogue from the dating platform onto another website. The ultimate aim is for the victims to transfer a sum of money. How? They use fairly classic phishing behaviour – a link to a supposedly safe click or a visit to a website is enough to infect the computer with malware.
Due to this occasion, maybe you are still looking for a Valentine's Day gift, but you should be vigilant about online Valentine's Day offers as well. Cybercriminals like to create phishing messages offering popular gifts like flowers, chocolates, even free accommodation. To test your security awareness, take our Security Awareness Quiz:
Chat rooms are also places where cybercriminals can get hold of sensitive information. If chat partners are insistent on transferring onto another communication platform, keep finding excuses not to meet up via video call or in person or they talk about recent money worries, caution is advised. It is also risky that many users disclose detailed information about themselves online and on social networks, despite being warned about it. Fraudsters often use this information to target their victims, for example using shared hobbies or purported favourite holiday destinations.
Tinder – a potentially dangerous swipe
Now we come to a well-known dating app, Tinder. If you haven't tried the app yourself, you probably know about it from other people's stories, or you have at least read about it. Tinder has over 30 million users worldwide and it is used in over 190 countries. You swipe through potential dates' profile pictures. Swiping right shows you are interested, swiping left takes you on to the next profile. Anyone who shows mutual interest is a match and you can start chatting.
The “Tinder Swindler”
The successful Netflix documentary “Tinder Swindler” is currently in the news. It tells the story of Simon Leviev, a fraudster who allegedly ripped off numerous women for a total of around ten million Swiss francs. Leviev appeared on Tinder at the wheel of luxury cars or in private jets, claiming to be the heir to a billionaire diamond businessman. He invited his victims for several luxurious dates, started a relationship with them and even looked for a flat together with the victims - then finally, he asked them for money. In the documentary, three of the women involved recount Leviev's scam, known as love or romance scamming.
What is Love Scamming?
You are thinking “I would never fall for love scamming!” and yet it happens to more people than you might think, and, apart from financial losses, victims are also left with a broken heart.
As the “Tinder Swindler” impressively shows, the love scammers' method is dishonest. They flirt with their victims, shower them with compliments and make them believe they are in love – as long as they develop strong feelings. The emotional attachment to (often) male scammers grows following weeks and months of wooing, and quite a few fall into the love trap in a way that is both emotionally dependent and rash. If the “woman” or “man of their dreams” asks for more money, they do not suspect that they are being swindled – and willingly pay, often several times over. This may be, for example, to immediately replace important documents that have allegedly been stolen from a hotel room, to enable a relative to receive medical treatment or to pay for a trip to Switzerland. Of course, the money will be repaid – one day, maybe.... In Simon Leviev's case, his victims took out loans because allegedly his life was in danger. The pitiful explanations vary, but the aim is always the same.
How to avoid the “love trap”
The key to avoiding falling for love scamming or other scams is simple but effective – be aware of your actions. So what exactly does that mean?
- Trust your instinct in spite of all the love: If you have the feeling that something is not right, break off contact with this person immediately.
- Go for certified offerings: Look for independent seals of approval. Check dating websites' reputations online and search for user feedback. Use the advanced privacy features of the dating website. On some sites, only paying members will be able to view your profile, which reduces the risk of fraud.
- Do not reveal too much personal information: You should assume that first of all, you will get to know strangers on the platforms or in the chat. You should keep sensitive data such as your full name, telephone number and information about your circumstances to yourself. It is always advisable to use a different e-mail address and, if applicable, a separate telephone number for online dating. This gives extra security and makes it possible to break off the contact easily and anonymously if you suspect fraud.
- Use the integrated Messenger: Trustworthy platforms usually provide integrated messenger systems. You can use these without revealing your personal contact details. Dating platforms usually have guidelines that users have to comply with. There is also targeted filtering for money requests in order to expose scammers.
- Be cautious about photographs: One of the primary methods scammers use to lure a victim is a photo of a stunningly good-looking person. This is often just a stock photo of a model. Has the photo been taken in a highly professional way? Does it look like it’s been edited? Or is the person “too good to be true”? Use your critical faculties.
- Do some research: Check if the person is genuine by googling their name, profile picture or any other information they have provided you with. This way, you can also check if the person has other online profiles, for example on Facebook or Instagram, and if fake pictures are being reused, as in the previous example of the model.
- Be careful when sharing private information and pictures: At a later date, scammers can use pictures or even information to blackmail you.
- Expressions of love after a brief period of time: In the absence of real human contact, a false sense of closeness and connection can rapidly develop, because it is much easier to fake it. If your chat partner talks about strong feelings after just a week, be critical.
- Refusing to meet in person: After having formed a bond online, it is only natural that you would want to meet in person, but clearly, that would be the end of the scammers' gambit. That's why meetings are often promised and then cancelled at the last minute, or they pretend to be working abroad so that a suspicious meeting can't take place, but the victim doesn't suspect anything.
- A clear pointer is the question of money: As soon as trust has been gained, scammers will talk about their financial problems – of course, this is with the intention that they will get help. Usually time is also a factor, because the money is needed straight away. This gives the victims less time to deal with their decision in a rational manner.
So – under no circumstances should you transfer money – no matter how charming your chat partner may be. If you do become a victim of fraud, you can file a complaint. However, it is usually difficult to catch the scammers, and the chances of getting the money back are low. Many of those involved feel shame and tell no-one about it, and filing a report is particularly important for crime statistics. As Simon Leviev's case shows, fraudsters can only be caught once they have been reported.