Spring brings a surge in activity for online dating services as many singles make a fresh start in their search for the perfect match.
There could be trouble ahead for some, however, as consumers looking for romance discount the threat of hackers, imposters and other cyber-criminals who may target the popular Internet sites.
When asked how worried they were that their personal data would be compromised online, a cyber survey of consumers released today by Hartford Steam Boiler (HSB), part of Munich Re, found singles showed little concern about using dating websites and apps.
“Online dating risks can include fraud, blackmail and invasion of privacy,” said Timothy Zeilman, vice president for HSB, a provider of cyber insurance to consumers and businesses. “Yet, many people reveal their personal and even intimate information without thinking about digital security.”
Daters are cheated in so-called romance scams, when people they meet online ask for money or banking information. Often, they use phony dating profiles and may use the victim’s data to steal their identity, apply for credit cards, or threaten to expose personal facts or photos unless they’re paid.
People reported losing $143 million in romance schemes in 2018, the highest total of any type of consumer complaint tracked by the Federal Trade Commission. The FBI estimates that criminal complaints of online dating fraud tripled over five years to $230 million lost in 2016.
So, are people worried?
Although the HSB poll conducted by Zogby Analytics found respondents were most concerned that a virus, hacker or computer attack would damage their data, laptops or smartphones (68 percent “very or somewhat concerned”), they were far less anxious about dating sites and apps.
Only 37 percent were somewhat or very concerned their personal information would be exposed through online dating, and 35 percent were “not at all concerned.” That ranked near last of 24 categories — only defamation and lawsuits from online bullying were considered less of a threat.
Help Keep Your Data Safe When Online Dating
Consumers should be more cautious with the personal data they share through dating websites and apps. Here are some tips to help protect your privacy and security.
- Be aware that scammers and cyber criminals will be trolling even reputable dating sites.
- Strong passwords, passphrases and other basic cyber security measures are important. Use multi-factor identification when available.
- Never visit dating sites on public, unprotected Wi-Fi networks. Install a VPN and disable GPS tracking when using dating apps to make it more difficult to identify your location.
- Don’t share personal information through the messaging feature on a dating site, texting or emails. Do it in person if you decide to meet a date.
- Use online search engines to check people out. Search for the person’s name, together with the word “scam” and do an image search for photos they share. Fraudsters are clever, but often lazy, using the same messages and images.
- Don’t send money to anyone you meet through an online dating site or app. Don’t share your banking information, purchase tickets or make travel arrangements for dates.
- Beware a “match” who avoids meeting in person.
- Don’t share intimate images through an online dating site. Remember, anything shared electronically is stored indefinitely, long after a relationship may end.
Zogby Analytics was commissioned by Hartford Steam Boiler to conduct a survey in December 2018 of 1,510 adults in the United States. Based on a confidence interval of 95 percent, the results had a margin for error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. That means all other things being equal, the identical survey repeated would have results within the margin of error 95 times out of 100.