Online dating is a sign of the times. We live busier lives than ever, so of course we need to make our dating as efficient as possible. Unfortunately, cybercriminals understand all too well how to exploit this system, which can lead to costly and disastrous results for a small fraction of people who use online dating websites and apps. Cybercrime is expensive, but cyber romance scams cost an average of 7x those of traditional scams.
Dating apps and websites are a sign of the technological times, and they make targeting users even easier than romance scams of yesteryear, which often required face-to-face interaction. But the demographics of dating sites and apps may surprise you. In the U.S. alone, nearly 35 million Americans have tried online dating, and in the past decade or so, the number of users shot up by almost 50%. An unexpectedly high number of older Americans also use dating sites and apps; over 1 in 10 daters are over the age of 55, but for the most part, most users are under 30. Regardless of age, however, is the fact that they can all be targeted by scammers and lose huge amounts of their financial stability to someone trying to make a quick buck off of a lonely person.
Online dating is a vulnerable activity, and it leaves people open to costly fraud. A Japanese woman in 2016 sent her online boyfriend, whom she thought was a U.S. Army captain stationed in Syria, over $200,000, leaving her in dire financial straits. Over the course of a year she discovered not only that her boyfriend didn’t even exist, but also that he was instead a ring of 14 cyber scammers operating out of Los Angeles and Nigeria. The average reported loss from a romance scam is $2,600, seven times more than the cost of other types of online scams. For people over the age of 70, that figure skyrockets to $10,000 per scam. In another such scam, one woman lost more than $1 million to such a scam after liquidating her retirement, investments, and some of her parents’ savings.
Scammers create fake profiles on dating sites and apps in order to perpetrate these crimes. The profiles may seem like the perfect match for a large number of people, drawing in sometimes multiple victims at once. They strike up a relationship with their targets through frequent contact. Once enough trust is built, the scammers make up a sob story and ask for money, such as consequences of overwhelming medical debt, personal debts that may be causing trouble, or even sometimes travel expenses to visit their online mate. Once such scammer was caught in 2017 after defrauding $1.7 million from more than 30 victims. One way he got them to give him money was that he would have the victim apply for a credit card, ask them to get a cash advance, then ask them to wire the money to an account in South Africa. This all just goes to show that scammers think ahead and think about how to worm their way into your heart.
In the case of such credit card scams, this can end up being a problem for the issuing bank if they didn’t take the necessary steps to prevent fraud or for the wire transfer service if they allowed a fraudulent wire transfer. In short, online dating scams are not just a personal problem for the victim – they can impact all of us. Find out how to spot potential scammers and prevent online dating fraud from this infographic from Our Dating Journey.