ALERT: Online Dating Sites May Betray You

datingWhat’s wrong with seeking love on the Internet?   Online dating has been around for awhile now and, not coincidentally, so have the horror stories about scammers exploiting seekers of love and companionship.    Scammers have targeted love-seekers for as long as people have been seeking love……was the Bible’s serpent a scammer?  Perhaps.   The FBI warns about online dating scams…..but not about serpents.  However, there may be another disloyalty lurking in the online daters’ grass — the dating sites themselves.  It turns out that they have been more unfaithful than those pesky online scammers.  So if you use Zoosk, Match, eHarmony, Plentyoffish, Hinge, Tinder, Blendr, Okcupid, The League Grindr or others, you’ll still need to be alert to potential exploiters and scammers. Read on, if you dare.

The Great Betrayers

The most unfaithful may well be the dating sites themselves.  Grindr’ sprivacy policy recently came into the spotlight with a report by the Norwegian Consumer Council.  In a January 2020 report,  the Norwegian non-profit found that apps like Grindr transmitted user-tracking codes and the app’s name to more than a dozen companies, essentially tagging individuals with their sexual orientation.  Even worse, the researchers also found that the OkCupid app sent a user’s ethnicity and answers to personal profile questions — like “Have you used psychedelic drugs?” — to a firm that helps companies tailor marketing messages to users.   The Norwegian report, along with other studies, have uncovered a vast ecosystem of companies that freely track hundreds of millions of people and peddle their personal information.   The data collected and by dating apps includes kind of data everything from drug use to preferred sexual position.

This information could imperil your ability to work, to connect with others and even to avoid political persecution.  NBC News showed the data that it found had been sold by the dating apps to an assistant attorney generatl for national security at the Department of Justice.  He reacted:  “”I think most American, most people, don’t realize how much data your phone is generating about you and your life every single day.”  He feared that the information could be weaponized by individuals and even foreign intelligence agencies.

Grindr was of particular concern to the attorney general.  He explained to NBC that the app is owned by the Chinese gaming company Kunlun Tech.   That matters because Chinese law requires a Chinese company to share any information that it has with the Chinese government if it’s asked for that information for national security reasons.  Notably, Grindr’s privacy policy says it “cannot guarantee the security of your personal data.”  NBC News analyzed four popular dating apps, including Tinder, Hinge, Grindr and The League, and found that each collect a range of personal information, which also includes the exact locations that you frequent.  The spread of users’ location and other sensitive information could present particular risks to people who use Grindr in countries, like Qatar and Pakistan, where consensual same-sex sexual acts are illegal.

Stay in Site

What about the daters’ themselves.  They, too can be dangerous.  Online dating sites have the ability to monitor and boot members who exhibit problematic behavior or are perpetrating scams, so scammers often try to get their marks off of the website on which they met.  The most common excuse as to why they shouldn’t continue to communicate via the website is”My membership on this site is almost up” or “How about if we text or communicate though our personal phone/email/text?” They do this so that they can’t be ferreted out by the website operators.  Moving off-site before launching a scam also reduces the chance that you’ll report the crook to the relevant site. That’s important to the scammer, who’ll want to troll the site again for future victims when done with you.

Run, when money enters the scene

If any prospect offers to send you money and have you handle the banking in the U.S., or asks for money or involves you in any way with some financially-related scheme, run!   Some prospects will string you along for weeks or months before asking you for money.  Still run!  Or if they concoct an emergency and ask you to wire money to them.  Keep running!    If you are asked to  items, particularly electronics, and send them overseas, be very careful. Many companies won’t ship to scam-beleaguered countries, so scammers might use you as an unwitting fence by directing you to forward property they’ve bought with stolen cards.

Another tip-off is photographs or references to having wealth — exotic cars, mansions, pictures in romantic foreign settings. Of course, real people sometimes have nice things and go to great places, but these visual cues are key to scammers who want to  know if you are motivated by money and thus might be open to their future bid for cash.

Spelling and grammar are now, finally, important

You may have ignored spelling and grammar in school, but don’t ignore it if you are in the dating world.  If your prospect has poor grammar and spelling, be careful. They may be using instant messaging or TTY services for the deaf to help mask their broken English.   A line that sounds like it could be from someone in a far-off country but portraying themselves to be in your same city will usually have a local dialect misfire.  If a profile indicates your match has a college degree, but he or she can’t string a sentence together, you have reason to be suspicious.

Love at first write

If your correspondent/date is claiming to have fallen in love with you in the first few hours/days/weeks,  the alarm bells should be going off.  Usually, they’ll claim a deep connection with you and parrot back to you all of the things that you mentioned in your profile or prior correspondence.  If this person seems like the ideal mate you’ve described in your own dating desires, they are probably scammers.   If you begin to receive some of the most beautiful poetry you’ve ever read, well, they probably ripped it off of the Internet.

Love means talking about you and me

If your prospect hangs on your every word but rarely talks about themselves,  get curious.  Be even more curious if your prospect provides few concrete details about their lives or work, be very careful. Scammers like to ask you a lot of questions, but seldom let you go deep into their lives, coming up with excuses about why they are reluctant to offer more personal information about themselves. Similarly, be sure that pictures they share are really theirs;  scammers mask their identities by sending shots of strangers they pull off the Internet. Some even use photos of models, so if they are drop dead gorgeous, you may want to suggest that they drop dead….and run!   Similarly, those that claims to want to see you on a Webcam – even though their Webcam never seems to work — are probably trouble. They might even be law enforcement, so be extra careful about what you say or do.

Being smart means asking lots of questions and don’t be scared to verify landmarks and spellings of cities online. Blatant errors could mean it’s a scam. For example, they might say, “I’ve been hurt before by telling too much too soon,” which actually turns the tables on you to prove that you can be trusted.   It also means being careful about what you talk about.   Don’t mention your income or where you work. You can say you’re a software programmer or an executive or somekind but don’t mention where or how much you make.

Get personal, but not too personal

Anyone who asks you for personal information or passwords that can get them into your online accounts.  Some will try to victimize you all over again by pretending to be fellow victims of a dating scam or law enforcement officers pursuing dating scammers. Law enforcement agencies never ask victims for money or ask for sensitive personal information (like account and Social Security numbers) via e-mail.

Which are the best online dating services to use?

We don’t have a specific service to recommend to you.   We do suggest that you use more than one and compare for yourself.   If you want to compare there dating sites, check out the discussion at Lifehacker or Urbanette or other high end matchmaking services.   Good rules of thumb are to date  closer to home, keep emails to no more than three or four before moving to the phone.   But nothing substitutes for an in-person meeting.  Avoid  fantasy relationship that will rip your heart in two unless that’s really all you are looking for.  But ultimately, safe online dating happens if you are smart and honest…..and it helps if you know what you are looking for.    There are lots of good people out there to date online.  As many have said, “if you don’t know where you are headed, any road will get you there.”

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