Everyone’s favorite corporate-driven holiday is here, and for the fortunate among you with significant others, that means a day of love, gifts and celebration. For everyone else, it probably means looking for love, and there’s no easier way to do that than with online dating apps.
Chocolates and flowers are fine, but this Valentine’s Day, Cloudwards.net wants to give you a far more valuable gift. Admittedly, it’ll be like getting socks for Christmas, but if you didn’t have them, you’d be walking around with blisters every day (or just look like an unbearable hipster).
We’re going to cover online dating scams and how to protect yourself from them. Finding love is hard enough, so we’re going to ease the burden by giving you the knowledge to do it safely. First, we’re going to talk about some of the notorious scams others have been caught in, then we’ll tell you the ways you can protect yourself in those situations.
The Worst Online Dating Scams
News broke in 2018 about Grindr, an online dating service for gay men, unknowingly exposing sensitive user information. Trever Faden, CEO of Atlas Lane, created a website called C*ckblocked where Grindr users could enter their username and password and see who had blocked them on the service.
Faden was able to see user profiles, messages, photos and locations, which he, thankfully, never made public. It was a hacktivist stunt to expose Grindr’s shoddy security. Though exposing that data is risky enough, the fact that it targeted a dating service for gay men made it worse. In countries where being gay is illegal, it could have put users in jail or the grave.
The worst part is that Grindr was also exposing the HIV status of its users to third parties without them knowing. Plus, that information was sent unencrypted, meaning anyone snooping on the data stream could steal it. Read our description of encryption to learn about how that works.
It’s not all about the corporate manipulation of your personal data, though. In 2017, a woman in her 50s in a declining marriage took to online dating services for a shoulder. The Texan woman, a proud Christian as noted on her Facebook page, was manipulated into wiring money to “Charlie,” who she met online.
Charlie used her faith as a stepping stone to scam her out of $2 million over the course of two years.
“He was trying to finish up a job in California, and he needed some money to help finish that job up,” she said in an interview with the FBI. “And so I sent him [money]. I thought about it long and hard. I prayed about it. Ifigured if I had money in the account, that I could send him some money. And he promised to have it back within 24-48 hours. And I thought — I could do that, no one would ever know, and I’d be okay.”
Most of these scams are an evolution of the Nigerian advance fee scam, where people would be called by a “government agent” and told they qualified for a grant, pending a $250 advance fee. Scammers who participated in that now target users on dating websites, particularly people over 40, recently divorced, elderly, widowed or disabled.
If you’re a fresh cat looking for love on Tinder or Bumble, you’re fine, though, right? Wrong. In 2015, Maya M shared her story on Bustle of a Tinder date turned stalker, and there are many more stories like hers. Outside of the treasure trove of information online data services keep about you, a crafty user could find out where you’re located at any given time.
How to Protect Yourself from Online Dating Scams
That’s a lot of doom and gloom, but, thankfully, it is avoidable. In this section, we’re going to talk about the simple ways you can protect yourself from online dating scams.
Before you use other protective measures, use your brain. Most dating scams can be avoided by deciphering what’s what on the internet. You don’t share a lineage with a Nigerian prince and that guy from Michigan isn’t going to pay back the $2,000 you sent him.
The fact is online dating scams are usually telegraphed from a mile (or 10) away. There’s an emphasis on “scam” here. Common sense won’t protect you from the sneakier or more nefarious bottom-feeders on online dating websites. If that’s the predicament you’re in, we’ll get you protected in the next few sections.
As they say, common sense isn’t always common, though. Don’t hand out money before you know the person is, you know, a person, and don’t hand out personal information without thinking about it first. Dating scams look for the lowest hanging fruit. Don’t be like that.
There’s no shame in doing research, either. If your potential lover has social media, look at it. Some investigative work goes a long way toward ensuring that who you’re talking to is who they say they are. There’s a line here, though, so, again, use your brain.
Even if you’re careful, you won’t be protected from, say, a data breach. Grindr not only exposed millions of users’ personal data but also shared their HIV status with third-parties. The best way to protect against that is simply to lie. If you’re on a dating website looking for love, information such as your HIV status should be between you and whoever you’re seeing, not marketers.
We’re not saying you should catfish people — after all, the point of this article is to avoid that — but it’s not a bad idea to use a second Facebook account that isn’t littered with personal information you’d prefer not to share.
Use a VPN
When you use an online dating service, you’re sending requests across the internet, and those requests contain a lot of personal information. Your IP address, which is sent with each request, can reveal your location, so a crafty creep online can find where you are.
A virtual private network can help you avoid that. When you use a VPN, your IP address is replaced with a new one, so you look like you’re somewhere else. Plus, it will encrypt your connection, so those sweet nothings you’re sending won’t fall into the hands of the government or other network snoopers.
Our pick for the best VPN is ExpressVPN. It will not only keep your connection quick and stable, but it will also keep you secure. Abiding by the best in VPN security and privacy, ExpressVPN takes what you do online off the record. You can learn about it in our ExpressVPN review or sign up for an account with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
If you’re just dipping your toe into the world of tech and don’t want to overcommit to protections from cybercrime, check out our best free VPN guide. Though those options have downsides in speed or features, they’ll still keep you protected when dating online.
Use a Password Manager
While it is generally a good practice in online security, using a password manager with dating apps isn’t a bad idea. If you’re unaware, a password manager, well, manages your passwords. It provides a single place for you to store passwords for your accounts, not only making it easier to use the internet, but also safer.
Let’s take Grindr as an example. While there’s a lot of concern about it sharing HIV data with third-parties, its shoddy security practices have been detrimental in the past. It’s one of many websites that have experienced a data breach. In 2012, an Australian hacker was able to impersonate other users and expose the personal information of thousands of people.
We won’t get too technical, but when a data breach happens, the hacker usually doesn’t get users’ passwords right away. Instead, they get hashed, or scrambled, versions of them that they then try to decipher with a program designed to do so. Using a strong, unique password on each of your accounts can protect them from that type of brute force attack.
Thankfully, password managers are cheap. Our best password manager is Dashlane, and it’s inexpensive if you subscribe for a year (read our Dashlane review). It also comes with identity theft protection and dark web monitoring, so you can ensure you’re safe on all fronts.
For dating apps, password managers protect you against potential data breaches and impersonation. If someone hacked your account, they could use it to carry out dating scams in your name. As long as you have a strong password, though, that’s unlikely to impossible.
As with VPNs, there are free options. Read our best free password manager guide if you’re not too keen on spending money yet.
Our large online world is scary, and that fact isn’t eased when booting up to find love online. Thankfully, there are measures you can take to protect yourself from online dating scams.
As usual, common sense prevails. That said, the importance of having a VPN and password manager shouldn’t be understated. Like it or not, your security isn’t entirely in your control when using the internet. Our anonymous browsing guide proves that. VPNs and password managers are tools that allow you to reclaim control of your personal data and how it’s shared online.
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What are you doing to secure your online dating? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.