Could your online date be a scammer? How to avoid getting trapped in a bad love story


With Valentine’s Day upon us, here are some timely tips on how to prevent scammers from stealing more than your heart

Could your Valentine be a scammer?  How to avoid getting trapped in a bad love story

Online dating has revolutionized the way people connect and find love. Now, any of us can browse an online catalog of potential love interests in the palm of our hands – no more dreadful chat lines at bars or setting up awkward “friend of a friend” double dates.

No fewer than 350 million people used dating apps in 2022. In addition to being an easy way to share your dating profile with others, these apps also open up a number of opportunities for scammers and hackers to exploit unsuspecting singles. The popularity of dating apps and social media has made it easier than ever for fake suitors to find and scam them out of money.

The scenario where instead of finding love lonely hearts end up with financial and emotional loss is more common than you might think. A report from the US Federal Trade Commission found that romance scams cost nearly 70,000 people a staggering $1.3 billion in 2022. However, this still doesn’t paint the full picture, as many scam victims on dates they are too embarrassed to come forward.

To make matters even worse, many victims of romance fraud have also become unwitting cash carriers. As demonstrated by the crossover between romance scams and cryptocurrencies known as pig slaughter fraud (as well as sugar daddy scams), scammers are constantly adding new ingredients to tried-and-true recipes. And in another twist on dating fraud, scammers are increasingly eager to co-opt generative AI tools as wingman to make their ploys more convincing, including pretending to be someone like Kevin Costner.

So, if you go online looking for a romantic connection (but the company of AI just isn’t your thing), what can you do to protect yourself from encounters you mistakenly believe are the love of your life? How do romance scammers and other threats lurking on dating apps work?

1. Catfishing: Creating false identities

One of the most popular tactics used by scammers on dating apps is catfishing, which is the creation of fake profiles with the intention of tricking their partners into thinking they are someone else. These scammers often use stolen or stock photos and falsified personal information to lure unsuspecting victims. There are many websites that use AI image generation to create photos of real-looking people (which, as you may have guessed, don’t exist) that scammers can use to create a realistic persona online.

The scammer would then use this person to connect and message unsuspecting profiles and filter out viable targets. Once they determine whether their pen pal is capable of giving them what they want, they will do everything they can to build trust and make them think they are in an authentic relationship.

From this foundation of trust, the scammer can then exploit the victim financially, using invented stories of personal crises and false emergencies with demands for money. The poor loved-up victim may continue to transfer money, buy gifts, or even book trips in hopes of supporting their “partner” and making their dreams of true romance a reality.

And don’t be fooled, criminals do their research and can appear as authentic as any other profile on the market. They may access social media to learn more about their target’s hobbies, beliefs and habits, using this information to give the illusion of common interests, helping to create an even stronger bond. This bond then gives them more power for emotional manipulation.

How can you protect yourself from catfishers?

It sounds simple, but when you get lost in the realm of romance, it may not be your first thought to make sure the person you’re talking to is real. Whether it’s checking social media a little, meeting in person, asking questions that require specific knowledge, or asking for proof of identity, all of these things will give you confidence that Tanned Caroline of Ohio is really Tanned Caroline of Ohio, and not the mouse Clive from Seattle.

Happy to be who they say they are? Always be wary if they ask you for money, favors or valuable information. They may be real people, but their intentions may not be. Too often, online daters fall for false sob stories that their online crush needs money to pay their sick relative’s medical bills, their fledgling business isn’t going as well as they hoped, or that they should take advantage of a ‘unrepeatable investment opportunity.

Would you accept the bait?

2. Phishing attacks and malware distribution

As an online platform, dating apps offer an easy gateway for phishing attacks and malware distribution. Criminals can create profiles and send seemingly innocent messages with malicious links or attachments, tricking hopeful singles into clicking them. They can use bots to do this on a mass level, and once clicked, these links lead to the installation of malware on the victim’s device. Once malware is installed, any personal information or data stored on the device is compromised, significantly increasing the risk of identity theft and credit card fraud.

How can you protect yourself?

In the early stages of a conversation, before you know more about your match, don’t open or click on the links they send. Even if it appears to be an innocuous link to a rave restaurant you mention in your profile, scammers can get creative with their domain names to make the links even more enticing and authentic. Wait a while until you’re sure you trust your partner before exploring link sharing and exploring the realms of the internet together.

3. Data collection for blackmail purposes

Online dating platforms store a lot of personal information, making them attractive targets for hackers. A Guardian reporter found that through her Tinder profile, the app had collected around 800 pages of data about her, including likes, interests, photos, friends and romantic preferences.

Scammers can use tactics like data mining to extract these sensitive details from people’s profiles. Incidents where such information is found exposed to the public are also not unheard of either: for example, 260,000 people saw their pictures and private chat logs exposed after a publicly accessible database for a dating app was exposed be displayed to the public. last year.

How can you protect yourself?

Nowadays, it’s often a compromise. Many apps require access to some of your data to provide you with the required functionality and experience. However, it is important to be aware of what data is collected and how it is used. Consider staying away from apps that don’t let you opt out of sharing data with third parties.

Also, keep in mind that once information is made public, there isn’t much that can be done. So the best thing to do is be careful what you share online. Don’t post or delete anything that can be used against you (those creepy videos you took at a friend’s bachelor party in Vegas may come back to haunt you in different ways than you might think).

The situation can take an even uglier turn (and end up being a big reward for the scammer) if you give in to the temptation to send racy photos or videos to your love interest. This happens especially to younger people and often starts with the fake suitor sharing “their” explicit photos and asking for similar photos of their brands in return. If you accept, the blackmail begins: the scammer will threaten to share the material with your social media contacts unless you pay or send more compromising photos or videos.

To avoid sextortion, never hand over photos that you would be ashamed to see posted online. Likewise, don’t share images of a sexual nature or pose naked on webcam.

4. Location-based threats

Many dating apps use location-based services to connect with other hopeful singles nearby. While this feature makes it easier for people to find potential matches nearby, it also opens the door to potential threats. Hackers can leverage location data to track and target individuals, causing real-world security issues.

How can you protect yourself?

Okay, let’s say you don’t want to turn off location services during your online dating journey because you want to meet someone right down the street, not across the world. A compromise might be to disable location services when you’re not scrolling or actively scrolling through matches. This way you remove that extra bit of vulnerability that makes you a more attractive target for ill-intentioned netizens, when in reality you should just be focusing on being a more attractive target for romance.


As the popularity of online dating continues to grow (expected to have over 450 million users by 2028), the risk of becoming the target of scams and cyber attacks also increases. For those navigating the world of online dating, suspicious hookups and uncertainty about your partner’s true identity should be high on the list of red flags (perhaps even above “he doesn’t like dogs”).

If something seems out of the ordinary or “not quite right”, report your match immediately and block it. But it’s not all doom and gloom, with over 70% of online daters reporting finding a romantic relationship, it’s clear that online dating can be hugely successful! So, we should all work together to make the platforms as safe and fun as possible. Who knows, your true love could be just one step away…

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