What is concerning is the reported $22.7 million lost to dating scams in 2015 – a figure that is escalating, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC article here)
While not pointing a finger at Tinder or Hinge, there is the potential for all online dating users to be scammed or worse still “Ashley Madisoned” so we asked frequent security commentator Nick Fitzgerald from ESET to give us his take on using online dating sites.
“Apps like Hinge are becoming increasingly popular, and while there are many exciting ways these kinds of products are impacting our daily lives, we need to be taking the right measures to ensure we don’t end up in another Ashley Maddison fiasco, or in a situation where individuals’ personal details are being exploited," Fitzgerald said.
"For example, scammers today are often on online dating websites and apps looking for 'phishing" opportunities. With the increased use of dating apps, those scammers are adopting new techniques to trap their victims, on the look-out for personal information like names, addresses, birthdays, emails and more. Hinge asks for a huge amount of information in the pursuit of your perfect mate.
"Protecting your profile on a dating app should be a priority to avoid being a victim of a dating scam. These are my three safe mobile dating tips:
- "Treat any dating mobile app as you would do with your Facebook profile. Make sure you only display the information you would like to share. As a general rule, it’s best to avoid revealing addresses and full birth dates. Remember to adjust your security settings, so your profile is only accessible to those you trust.
- "Quickly recognise signs of fake or scam profiles: People contacting you straight away, unrealistic pictures that may have been taken straight from Google Images, people declaring their love early and before meeting. All of these could be bots or scammers looking to get your personal information. If you are not sure, a Google search of their profile and comments can go a long way.
- "Know when you are being scammed: Picture or file downloads could contain hidden malware. People saying they are in distress and needing money to be sent is a classic dating scam. Don’t fall for unrealistic stories involving sending money online to overseas accounts.
"Being aware of these signs is the first step in stopping scammers. If you suspect a scammer, don’t hesitate to report their profile to the app owners and developers straightaway.”
The ACCC has a strong take on this.
“Romance scams continue to cause significant emotional and financial harm to the community. We know these figures are only the tip of the iceberg as many victims are reluctant to admit to friends, family or authorities that they fell for a scam,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.
“Scammers are experts at preying on people’s weaknesses and will spend months and even years grooming victims and lowering their defences. Inevitably, the fraudster will spin a tall tale about why they suddenly need your financial help, ranging from medical emergencies to failed business ventures to needing to rebook flights to visit you,” she added.
“Once victims realise that their admirer is actually a criminal, the emotional consequences can be devastating. This is why disrupting relationship scams continues to be a priority for the ACCC,” Rickard said.
It has published an 18-page “Best Practices guideline” for dating websites here.