One of the most common methods is the scammer who emotionally manipulates the victim to send them money, gifts or personal information. Picture: Pixabay

The embrace of online dating services, such as dating apps or virtual places to meet people, is a phenomenon that has occurred worldwide. 

Currently, more than 40 percent of single men used a dating app or a dating site in the last month, says GlobalWebIndex. 

There are dozens of dating apps available; some operate globally, while others only work in some countries that have greater acceptance of them.

Although these apps and sites have the potential to bring great happiness into the lives of their customers, there is a darker side as well: scammers abuse these services to their own nefarious ends, leading to heartbreak both emotionally and financially for the scammers’ victims, says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO of ESET South Africa.

Multiple forms of deception

Although they come in different flavours, in most cases the criminals committing romance scams study the profiles of their victims and collect personal information, such as their work activity, their level of income, and their lifestyle, because the mismanagement  of our personal information in the digital age allows a criminal to build a fairly detailed profile of a future victim.

One of the most common methods is the scammer who emotionally manipulates the victim to send them money, gifts or personal information.  

Another type of common deception is sextortion, which usually begins as a normal relationship between two people who begin to know each other until the scammer tries to take the conversation off the dating platform, such as, for example, to WhatsApp. 

Here, the criminal will try to convince the victim to send some risqué photos or intimate videos…and then use that salacious material to blackmail the victim.

Another scam is known as "catfishing", which is luring the victim into a relationship based on the attacker’s fictitious online persona.

Cases from around the world

A case in Spain occupied the headlines of several media outlets when a man nicknamed The King of Tinder, was arrested in 2018. 

Using techniques similar to other fraudsters, this criminal knew his victims through dating apps like Tinder or Meetic, he gained their trust to the point that his victims sent him money after he fed them stories of bogus problems relating to his "family".

How to protect yourself

  • Users of online dating sites and apps should bear in mind that anyone can be deceived. Here are some recommendations to keep in mind. 
  • Look for inconsistencies; if you find any, be cautious
  • Romance scammers tend to profess excessive interest in their victims, and very quickly within ‘meeting’ them
  • Scammers also tend to quickly try to move the discussion off the platform or app to some other form of messaging such as email, Skype, or a secure messaging app.
  • Suspect anyone who always has an excuse to not meet in person
  • Never share with the person you are meeting, especially if you don’t know them personally, information that may compromise you, such as photos or videos, your address, place of work or phone number
  • If you do decide to meet someone in person that you’ve met online, be sure to set up the meeting in a safe, public place