Online Dating and Protecting Your Privacy
This month, American singles will flock to the multitude of dating services that are available online. Online dating has lost the stigma it once had, as a study conducted by Pew Research found that one in ten Americans have used an online dating website or mobile app in 2013. With the negative stigma of online dating nearly abolished, the popularity of these services is on the rise, which has caught the attention of scammers.
What are the risks?
As with anything you post online, it’s out there for everyone to see, so you will want to be careful with what identifiable information you use in your dating profile. While there are a plethora of legitimate daters on these sites, you still don’t know what kinds of individuals you are dealing with. You can run the risk of becoming a victim of stalking, harassment, Catfishing, identity theft, webcam blackmail and even phishing scams. In order to help mitigate these risks, be very careful with what information you provide on your profile.
Profile Do’s and Don’ts:
- Create a username that you have not used on any other accounts. Your username can be searched, and anything tied to that username can come up easily.
- The same applies for the photos you post on your profile. A user can do a reverse image search and easily locate other websites where that photo is posted. So, in this case, it’s ok to go selfie crazy!
- Set up a free email account to use with your dating account that has a unique name. Most sites offer their own in-site messaging that protects the anonymity of their members; however, people will often move their conversations to email or telephone as they get more friendly online.
- When the time comes for a phone call, set up a free Google Voice account, which will generate a separate phone number and forward it to your mobile. That way you can protect your phone number until you feel comfortable enough to give it to your potential match.
- Join a paid site. Since members have to pay to communicate with each other, this means that there will be more legitimate daters and less scammers. Some of the paid sites also conduct criminal background screenings.
How to spot online dating scams:
- An individual may contact you with a sob story, about being stranded in a foreign country, or a sudden family emergency. If they ask you for money, you should report them to the service you are using and then block them.
- To help verify the identity of the person that you’re talking to, ask for a recent photo. If they protest or makes excuses as to why they can’t provide a photo, it is best to err on the side of caution.
- If you’ve been chatting up a potential sweetheart for a while, and they continually put off meeting in real life, this could be a red flag.
- Don’t visit links sent to you by people you haven’t talked to for very long. Scammers will pose as a member and try to get their target to click on links, usually leading to porn or webcam sites, and sometimes can even lead to malicious sites that download malware onto your computer.
- If someone requests a webcam chat, be especially careful about your behavior. The criminal can record the webcam session and they can use it to blackmail you. If the conversation you’re having starts to take an uncomfortable turn, it’s okay to disconnect the chat.
- Scammers create fake profiles that are run by programs called bots. Their objective is to get you to click on a link that will lead to either porn, malware or scam you out of credit card information. It’s actually quite easy to spot a bot, as they have a set of predetermined “canned” responses. If you notice that the conversation you’re having seems a bit off, or the person isn’t answering your questions directly, chances are it’s a bot.
Catfishing is a different kind of scam in and of itself. Catfishing is when a user assumes the identity of someone else. This tactic is used by online predators to try to trick people into an online romantic relationship. Catfishers will always make up excuses as to why they can’t meet you, talk on the phone or meet up on webcam. If the user’s profile seems too good to be true, it probably is. Do a reverse online image search of their photos, and if they appear in other places, under other names, you may have caught yourself a catfish.
We are now in the age of the Internet where we can order up anything from toothpaste to significant others online. As with all areas of the cyber landscape there are scammers and hackers abound, but if you keep your wits about you and follow the advice in this article, you can safely add love to your shopping cart.