Fraudsters Take Advantage of Vulnerable Online Daters During Covid-19
There was a 20% increase in bank transfer fraud linked to romance scams in 2020 compared to 2019. National lockdowns exacerbated loneliness, and people turned to dating apps for companionship and connection – particularly singletons who lived alone.
Unfortunately, fraudsters saw an opportunity and jumped on it. They have been targeting vulnerable lonely hearts during lockdown to extract money via bank transfer, gift cards, and products.
These underhand criminals are good at what they do. They’re charming and use words to worm their way into the lives and hearts of good people who are simply looking for love. The backlash is always bad since emotions are involved, but the financial hit is also a huge blow for victims who thought they could trust their latest squeeze.
Research has shown that £68 million was lost to these kinds of scams in 2020 compared to online shopping and auction fraud which together wracked up £63 million. Taking advantage of vulnerable people during a global pandemic is despicable, but online dating sites and the singletons that use them can put measures in place to ensure they never fall victim to a romance attack.
Why Dating App Scams are on the Rise
National restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic mean more people are turning to online dating for companionship.
It’s easy to spend an evening swiping right if there’s nothing else to do, and the surge in online dating users is evident in the number of romance-related fraud reports we’ve seen over the past year.
According to the Online Dating Association (ODA), over 2.3 million Brits used dating apps during the first lockdown. 64% saw dating apps as a lifeline when living alone during stay-at-home orders, and the soothing act of swiping became a common part of everyday life for singletons who could no longer go out and meet a potential partner in real-life.
The rise in people using online dating apps paired with the fact that fraudsters are willing to take advantage of people during a vulnerable time has led to a romance fraud crisis.
The average loss per victim is £7,850, and a total of £18.5 million was stolen by fraudsters between January and November 2020 (that equates to £55,000 a day).
The Dating Scams Fraudsters are Running
While fraudsters will go to any lengths to extract money from their victims, there are a few dating app scams that have become the go-to for these criminals.
Some scammers are going so far as to ask their victims to unwittingly launder money for criminal gangs. After befriending a man on a dating site, one woman was conned into laundering £100,000 through Bitcoin and became what was dubbed a “money mule”.
Gaining Access to a Bank Account or Bank Card
Fraudsters are taking advantage of people’s good nature to get access to their bank accounts and bank cards. Victims believe they are in a committed relationship with their new-found love interest, so they are less guarded about sharing their bank account or card details.
Convincing fraudsters are getting their “love interests” to part with money through tear-jerking emotional backstories. They’re demanding victims pay their medical bills for fictitious injuries, that they need money for their children, or that they desperately want to travel to see the victim but don’t have the funds to do so.
Of course, these emotional stories tug at the heartstrings of already vulnerable people who simply want to help.
Finally, fraudsters are actively gaining personal information from their victims to later commit identity fraud. When they’ve broken down the barriers with smooth talk and big promises, they can extract the key information they need to steal their victim’s identity.
How Dating Apps Can Secure Their Services
There is plenty of advice out there for dating app users on how to avoid falling foul of a romance scam, but what can dating apps do to secure their services and keep users safe?
Make Signup Harder
It’s fairly easy to sign up for a dating app. Most sites don’t require a great deal of verification, except confirming an email address or a passcode, or linking to a social media account.
The limited verification process leaves the door wide open for fraudsters who are savvy enough to create multiple fake accounts without having to reveal their true identity through facial recognition or other means.
Dating apps can tighten up the verification process by requiring a several-step signup process involving a photo or video identity check or an official form of ID that’s not an email address or a passcode.
Turn to Technology
There is a wealth of technology geared towards maintaining online security available today. Online dating apps should turn to these to reduce the number of fake profiles – we’re talking tech like facial recognition and other AI-powered verification processes.
Identify Potential Fraudsters Early
Chances are, there will be patterns that connect potential fraudsters. Maybe they swipe right on every single profile; maybe they chat with hundreds of people at once; or maybe they’re quick to take their conversations off-site.
Online dating apps should invest in ways to identify potential fraudsters and kick them off the site before they can commit a scam. It’s not enough to wait for users to report them, apps need to be proactive if they want to protect their genuine customers.
Leveraging technology while educating users will help reduce the number of scams taking place on online dating apps. Creating a safe space for singletons to find their next partner is crucial for dating sites, particularly when the surge in online romance hunters has dramatically increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fraudsters are quick to prey on vulnerable parties, but with the help of tighter technology solutions and the ability to identify con-artists before they commit a crime, online dating apps will be able to provide a far more enjoyable (and far less risky) experience for its users.