The pandemic has made it hard to socialize due to quarantine and legal restrictions on where people can go. Fortunately, technology has allowed people to keep in contact, including people looking for dates.
However, while online dating seems tempting and has a moderate success rate, it’s not 100% safe. Online dating can be dangerous.
But what risks do online daters face?
Risks Facing Online Dating
The Internet allows people to take on new personas, to hide their real identities and masquerade as a different person. People see this all the time, from people who go by their Gamertags in games to criminals who need to hide their tracks. Unfortunately, dating sites are filled with the latter.
Dating apps contain many “catfish,” people who fake their identities and lure in men and/or women in order to scam them. These catfishing scams, also known as phishing scams, often end up with the scammer stealing personal and financial information from the victim.
The victim hands over said information for a few reasons, including the promise of sex, the chance at a relationship, or pure desperation. One thing is for sure, though: the scammer won’t stick around long after gathering the information.
2. Blackmail (Sextortion Scams)
Not every scammer on online dating apps takes the catfishing approach, however. Some of them prefer more malicious methods—these methods often end up shaming the victim and threatening social ex-communication.
These scams are known as sextortion scams.
Sextortion scams are when a scammer manipulates their victim(s) into sending provocative pictures and/or videos. Once the victim sends the media, the extortionist will then demand money. Else, they will send those pictures and videos to the victim’s friends and family.
These scams have become quite popular over the last decade and are extremely dangerous and can ruin a victim’s social life (and possibly career).
3. Dangerous Meetups
Some criminals prefer a direct approach, and these approaches are—by far—one of the most common threats facing dating app users.
Certain criminals, once finding their victims, will spend days, weeks, or even months gaining their trust. Once done, they’ll propose a meetup. However, these meetups aren’t for romantic reasons.
Some criminals will lure people into private meetups to rob them, extort them, or worse. One thing is for sure; however: these meetups can be fatal if the user isn’t careful about who they’re meeting up with and where.
How Users Can Stay Safe While Online Dating
Don’t Overshare information
Online dating criminals thrive on information. The more information they have on you, the easier it is for them to extort you or phish for your information. The key to avoiding this? Don’t overshare your personal information.
Getting to know someone is important, especially on online dating platforms. Don’t immediately give out where you go to school, where you work, where you live, and vice versa. Verify that you can trust the person on the other side of the phone first.
Hide Your IP With a VPN
Certain tech-savvy criminals may not need you to overshare your information—they just need you to communicate with them long enough for them to gather information on their own.
How can they do this? With your IP address! Your IP address can be used to obtain valuable information about you, from your location to your online activity. This is why it’s important for you to hide it while online dating.
Hiding your IP address is one of the benefits of using a VPN, so think about using it if you’re worried about criminals tracing your IP address.
Meet Up in Public Areas
No matter what you do—no matter how many times you’ve confirmed the identity and intentions of the people you’ve been talking to—always meet them in public areas.
There’s no telling what can happen when meeting up with someone for the first time, so it’s better to meet them in areas where there are people around that can protect you. This is vital the first few times you meet up with someone.
Don’t Use Your Real Number
The worst thing you can do when meeting new people on dating apps is using your real number right out of the gate. See, if you give your real number out to someone and it turns out you two aren’t compatible, they still have your number. They can spam it, stalk you, and worse.
Until you’ve established trust with them, use a fake phone number, such as a paid-for Google Voice number. This helps keep you anonymous while still being able to communicate with them directly.
Confirm Their Identity
Perhaps the most important tip on this list, you should do whatever it takes to confirm the identity of the person you’re talking to.
Whether this means meeting up with them in a public space or talking to them through Skype or Zoom, it’s important you confirm their identity before going any further with the person.
After all, it’s important not to fall into the hands of a catfish or extortionist.