Online Dating Sites a Haven For Criminals

I’m weird. I know this because people tell me all the time. They tell me I’m weird because I like to do things that most people don’t. I like to do things that are different, and different usually means weird. One of my little weird things is posing as a woman. Yup. Read on.

I like to expose the flaws in our systems, to find what makes us vulnerable. Much of my “research” (or my “antics,” as some would say) is prompted by my desire to learn more about the scumbags of society, who prey on others.

So I sign up for online dating sites, create a profile as a woman, and wait for men to contact me. My research has led me to discover some particularly shady methods scammers use to target emotionally vulnerable victims. The most common is an advanced fee scam involving a wire transfer.

A divorced mother of three in Britain was taken for £80,000 by a scammer posing as a US soldier. It began when a man who called himself Sergeant Ray Smith introduced himself on a dating website. Soon they were chatting and emailing regularly, and then he was calling her on the phone and asking her to wire him money.

Twenty years ago, online dating wasn’t even a thought. Ten years ago, it was weird. Five years ago, it was new and exciting. Today, it’s as normal as milk and bread. If you are looking for a mate online, you will eventually find someone. Most of my friends who’ve tried it were successful. But by the time a new technology becomes normalized, scammers, who are usually ahead of the curve, are lying in wait. As online dating gradually gained popularity and acceptance, scammers were coming up with ways to take advantage and perfecting their craft. And now it’s a full-time job for them. They know all the new scams and come up with better ways of executing the old ones.

It blows me away that these scams are even possible. In many cases, the same scammers maintain multiple profiles on different dating sites, and the dating sites do almost nothing to prevent or police this.

We caught up with anti-fraud provider iovation to see what dating sites around the world were reporting about fraudster activities.

In the last 90 days, 230,000 fraud and abuse attempts were reported to iovation from dating sites alone, including:

•   Spamming – 90,000

•   Scams and solicitations – 30,000

•   Inappropriate content – 20,000

•   Chat abuse – 17,000

•   Profile misrepresentation – 15,000

•   Credit card fraud – 14,000

•   Identity mining / phishing attempts – 12,000

iovation has many more categories specific to dating, including bullying, account takeovers, under age members, and so on. What’s unique to their globally shared system is that their clients can choose what to take action on or not.  For example, a dating site may choose to not care about cheating in online gaming sites, but set up rules to trigger multiple account creations looking for profile misrepresentation.  Dating sites can specify which type of behavior to protect their users from.

If more sites incorporated device reputation checks for suspicious computer history and investigated for characteristics consistent with fraudulent use, they’d be able to deny criminals, often before the first time they tried to sign up.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert contributor to iovation, discusses Safe Personal Dating on Tyra. (Disclosures)

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