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The internet transformed the world into one global village. Communicating with people across the globe became much easier at the click of a mouse. The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns across the world saw a rise in online communication and dating.
Most dating sites experienced phenomenal growth, and between March and May this year, apps such as OkCupid experienced a 700% date increase, while Bumble had a 70% spike in video calls.
It might be healthy for social distance and date online, but how safe are you? Here are some of the cyber threats that plague online daters.
We have often heard about women and men getting conned by an online lover, and we wonder how. Romance fraud is a type of catfishing, and millions of people have fallen victim to this elaborate scam.
This type of scam targets emotionally vulnerable people like widowers, widows, or divorcees.
The scammer creates a fake online identity or steals a real one and impersonates the real person. These romance fraudsters make friends with their target victim and, over time, build a relationship.
They often claim to work in jobs that involve a lot of traveling for months at a time, such as NGOs, oil rigs, or the army, and lately, they use the lockdowns as an excuse not to meet.
After gaining trust, the scammer comes up with a clever plot and asks for money from the victim.
They may ask for small amounts, which they refund, keep adding the amount, and one day ask for an astronomical amount, then disappear.
Webcam blackmail is also referred to as sextortion and is also very common. The fraudsters make a romantic approach to their victim, communicate for a while, and gain their trust.
The scammer drops hints about performing sexual acts and eventually convinces the victim to perform the sexual acts on webcam.
The scammer records these sexual acts and uses them to blackmail the victim, who pays the demanded amounts for fear of exposure.
Phishing scams involve emotional manipulation and tricking the victim into revealing their details. The scammers approach their victim, strike a friendship, and slowly gain their trust.
They use subtle ways to extract information from their victims. If someone asks you for your banking details, credit card number, usernames, passwords, etc., you are being phished.
How to ensure you are safe while dating online
Dating online does not have to be a nightmare. There are good people, but there are also unscrupulous scammers waiting to prey on naïve people. Here is how to keep yourself safe when dating online.
1. Download a VPN app
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is one of the safest ways to log into dating apps. Download a VPN app to help you browse anonymously as it will hide your IP address and physical location.
A VPN uses one of the best encryption standards used by banks and the military, so your data is always safe. No hacker can intercept any communication that comes in or goes out of your devices.
2. Avoid revealing too much information.
When you start talking to someone new, avoid revealing too much of your personal information. Giving out too much information gives a scammer the means to track you down, and you might be at risk of being kidnapped or stalked.
Never give out your bank details or your passwords, and if someone asks for them, no matter how long you have been chatting, block and report the profile.
3. Talk via a video or phone call.
After chatting a while on a dating app, you must reach out via a video call or phone call before you meet.
Hearing and seeing the other person’s voice allows you to pick up on their verbal and physical cues and nuances that cannot be identified via text.
The call gives you a feel of how the other person sounds and looks like and so that you can attach a voice and face to the photo and texts.
Sometimes a scammer may use someone else to call you, which you will immediately pick on when you meet.
If the voice and face of the person you meet do not match the one you saw on the video call, you will immediately know you are being scammed.
4. Use a Google Voice Number
A Google Voice Number is free and lets you create a number that allows you to make cheap international and domestic calls. It filters call spam, and the spammer cannot tell your real number. This protects you from ever being contacted by a person you blocked on the app.
5. Meet in a public place
After chatting a while, and you feel it is time to meet the new person, meet them in a public place. Observe all social distance protocols, and ensure you meet in a restaurant surrounded by plenty of people.
Ensure you tell at least one friend where you will be at all times, and enable your GPS tracker, as well as give your friend your date’s phone number.
If anything goes wrong, you can scream for help and if you are not able to, have a plan in place with a friend.
For example, you can agree to text them every 10 minutes, and if more than twenty minutes pass without your communication, they should take action.
If your date suggests you go to a more private and less public place, refuse. If they insist, terminate the date.
6. Limit location data sharing
People often share their location on their social media handles, making it easy to trace them. Avoid sharing your location online unless you have restricted your social media to a handful of friends.
Even then, it would help if you were careful as your social media handle can be hacked.
Sharing your location goes hand in hand with giving out too much information. Avoid sharing your physical address location, school, place of work, etc.
As mentioned before, you might be setting yourself up for stalking, kidnapping, or worse.
7. Signal the bartender or waiter
If a situation gets out of your control, you can signal the bartender or the waiter. This way, they can get you help by causing a distraction or getting you an Uber or whatever help they can offer.
If you get to a place earlier than your date, you can alert the bartender you are meeting a new person and figure out a way to alert them if things go south. The signal can be a wink, asking for a strange drink, or any signal you agree on.
Dating has become easier yet harder at the same time. In the pre-internet days, dates were simple. You met through mutual friends, and it was much easier to tell when someone was dishonest.
The internet allows most people to hide behind computer screens and keyboards and create fake personas.
Dating a person online is tricky, and with the COVID-19 lockdowns, scammers have become bolder. They trick you into believing they are someone they are not and use the social distance excuse not to meet up. Be vigilant and learn how to look for red flags.
If a person feels off, they probably are. Use common sense with a huge dose of intuition, which is rarely wrong.
Matthew Stern is a technology content strategist at TechFools, a tech blog aiming at informing readers about the potential dangers of technology and introducing them to the best ways to protect themselves online.
As a tech enthusiast and an advocate for digital freedom, Matthew is dedicated to introducing his readers to the latest technology trends and teaching them how to gain control over their digital lives.