Dating sites can be a wonderful place to meet new people, make connections and find a romantic partner, but as the popular Tinder Swindler documentary showed, it’s easy to fall in love and fall victim to dating scams involving romantic con artists. With February being the month of love, it’s important that online daters know how to protect themselves in the digital dating space.
Data from the Federal Trade Commission in the United States showed that in 2021 reported losses to romance scammers were up nearly 80% compared to the previous year. This was followed by an alert issued by the FBI which noted victims of romance fraud lost $1bn in 2021 alone. While current reliable figures are difficult to establish, romance scams, both in South Africa and across the globe, are likely to be underreported because of the personal nature of the crime and victims’ feelings of embarrassment.
According to the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) some terror groups have been targeting South Africans to finance their criminal acts through romance scams. It also reports that online dating scams are used by fraudsters to launder the illicit proceeds of crime. In 2021, eight suspects were arrested in Cape Town in connection with an online dating scam and stealing more than R100 million from victims in various countries.
Online dating or romance scams are financially and emotionally costly as fraudsters exploit people’s vulnerabilities, trust, and feelings of loneliness. When visiting online dating platforms, be aware of photos that look too good to be true. An image search on Google can help you determine if the photo is authentic or a stolen or stock photo. Other red flags include requests for private information such your ID number, declarations of love alarmingly early in the relationship, or a request for money to help them out of a situation.
Another new trend in 2022 was an increase in reports of romance scammers luring consumers into fake cryptocurrency investment schemes.
While dating scams have multiple layers of deception, they all rely on gaining a victim’s information which should give everyone pause to think about how the management of personal information can allow criminals to build a detailed profile of their target.
A common modus operandi is scammers using emotional manipulation to get a victim to send money, gifts, or personal information. Another common, and extremely traumatising, form of deception is sextortion. This begins as a seemingly normal relationship before the scammer pressures the victim into sending intimate photos or videos which are used as material to blackmail the victim.
Catfishing is another common trick scammers use which lures the victim into a relationship based on the attacker’s fictitious online persona. Once the victim is on the hook, the scammer will send messages about being in financial trouble with promises to pay the money back later.