Beware cyber criminals on dating sites

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Hartford Steam Boiler says consumers show little concern about the use of their personal data on dating websites, which makes them vulnerable to hackers, imposters and cyber criminals. The insurance company, which is part of Munich Re, says romance scams are rife, but a cyber survey of consumers indicates that few website users are worried.

“Online dating risks can include fraud, blackmail and invasion of privacy,” says Timothy Zeilman, vice-president of HSB, which provides cyber insurance to consumers and businesses. “Yet many people reveal their personal and even intimate information without thinking about digital security.”

Cyber criminals can woo people online then ask for money or their banking details. They use phony dating profiles and then use their victims’ data to steal their identity, apply for credit cards, or threaten to expose personal facts or photos unless they are paid.

Consumers reported losing $143 million in romance schemes in 2018, the highest total of any type of consumer complaint tracked by the Federal Trade Commission. The FBI estimates that criminal complaints of online dating fraud tripled over five years – $230 million was lost in 2016, for example.

The HSB poll, conducted by Zogby Analytics, found that people were more concerned that a virus, hacker or computer attack would damage their data, laptops or smartphones (68% of them were ‘very or somewhat concerned’). They were far less anxious about dating websites or apps, with only 37% ‘very or somewhat concerned’ that their personal information would be exposed through online dating, and 35% ‘not at all concerned’. That ranked near last of 24 categories – only defamation and lawsuits from online bullying were considered less of a threat. 

How to stay safe when online dating

  • Be aware that scammers and cyber criminals troll even reputable dating sites.
  • Use strong passwords, passphrases and other basic cyber security measures. Use multi-factor identification when available.
  • Never visit dating sites on public, unprotected Wi-Fi networks. Install a VPN and disable GPS tracking when using dating apps to make it more difficult to identify your location.
  • Don’t share personal information through the messaging feature on a dating site, texting or emails. Do it in person if you decide to meet a date.
  • Use online search engines to check people out. Search for the person’s name, together with the word ‘scam’, and do an image search for photos they share. Fraudsters are clever but often lazy, using the same messages and images.
  • Don’t send money to anyone you meet through an online dating site or app. Don’t share your banking information, purchase tickets or make travel arrangements for dates.
  • Beware a ‘match’ who avoids meeting in person.
  • Don’t share intimate images through an online dating site. Remember, anything shared electronically is stored indefinitely, long after a relationship may end.