The following article is a sponsored post from our Content Partners at RealMe. This report explores the current state of user safety in the online dating industry and is based on a questionnaire that was completed by the Global Dating Insights community.
Make sure you check out the special episode of The GDI Podcast and tomorrow’s free webinar where we’ll discuss the results in more detail, with RealMe’s Neil Davis, Spectrum Labs’ Justin Davis and Charly Lester.
Welcome to ‘Behind the Curtain: What Dating Insiders Really Think About Safety’, a report by RealMe, the leading online reputation platform. This report delves into the safety and security trends that impacted online dating over the past year and how those at the industry forefront are evolving to tackle new challenges and build a safer and more transparent future for their users.
The report draws on unique findings from new market research, conducted by RealMe in partnership with Global Dating Insights, between February and March 2021. Here, we offer actionable insight into the state of safety amongst today’s dating organizations, attitudes for the future and the steps being taken by platforms and their users to make the dating world a safer place.
The online dating ecosystem is experiencing continuous innovation to navigate new trends and standards – and user safety is no exception. The need to diversify offerings has continued amidst the rise of virtual dating. In early 2020, we saw dating apps around the world take hold of the new virtual dating trend, adding video chat features that allowed users to get to know each other from the comfort of their homes.
But the industry didn’t stop there and as virtual options became a long-term preference for many daters, major players and new entrants have been doubling down on their user safety features. For example, in March 2021, Match Group announced it was adding more robust background checks to Tinder in a bid to help users vet their matches. Meanwhile, April saw the launch of rising star dating app, Thursday, which requires anyone wanting to use the app to verify their identity using a government-issued driving licence or passport.
This movement from the online dating community has been inspired. But opportunity never comes without new challenges and its popularity has brought the need for more security into sharp focus. As more people look for love online, it is unsurprising to see that romance fraud has been on the rise.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams took ‘record dollars in 2020’, with reported losses totaling a record $304 million, up about 50% from 2019.
At RealMe, we wanted to explore exactly how online dating companies are responding to the call for safer and secure dating, and what better way to do so than to ask industry experts themselves.
Between February and March 2021, we surveyed 1,000 professionals from across the online dating industry to understand their current safety practices, priorities for the future, and the appetite for tools and technology that help them to step up these efforts and mitigate risks.
Let’s dive into our findings and explore the current state of online dating safety and what the insiders have to say for this ever-growing global heavyweight industry.
Dating fraud is on the rise
Safety and security have become much more than buzzwords and for the right reasons. Our data validates this, with 63% of professionals seeing an increased risk of scamming and fraud for online daters around the world. This confirms what we’ve known to be true for some time; that romance fraud is a problem in all corners of the online dating community. However, it is not only scamming activity that continues to cause issues.
In many cases, our respondents reported seeing even more serious forms of dangerous activity across their own platforms this past year. Nearly a third had seen an increase in incidents of harm or harassment amongst their users in the last 12 months, while 58% stated no change and around 10% noticed a decline.
When asked about the reasons for this rise, many said scammers are getting smarter in how they approach and take advantage of genuine users and are using new features in different ways to get what they want from unsuspecting matches. With that said, respondents were clear to point out many of the old tricks still work today, with asking for money and gift cards through fake profiles still just as effective now.
When identifying and removing bad actors from a dating app user base, the first step is to understand how many players you’re dealing with. As this number grows, the risk to users is naturally higher with more action needed to safeguard genuine individuals. One cause for concern is that a fifth (21%) of executives surveyed identified that fake or suspicious accounts made up between 10-14.99% of accounts currently on their app. Meanwhile, 37% estimated the make-up of malicious accounts between 0-4.99% and 11% between 5-9.99%. It’s promising to see most responses sitting at the lower end of the scale, but our data shows there is still work to be done.
With that in mind, we wanted to know how much or little dating brands are doing to step up their efforts to protect users from scammers and catfishing. When asked if their company is doing enough, over half of the industry executives we surveyed felt theirs could be doing more, with 21% saying ‘slightly more’ and 36% ‘a lot more’. In this scenario, it is important to ask why there is such a divide between what is done and what should be done. Lack of investment and a genuine oversight to take proactive measures can come into play in the dating app arena.
But with virtual dating trends looking set to stay, dating brands are responsible for building new initiatives that eliminate risks and enhance user safety and trust.
Users are demanding more
Our findings proved the huge uptake in online dating during global lockdowns has directly created more opportunities for scammers. Of those surveyed, 42% had seen either ‘a lot more’ or ‘slightly more’ scamming and catfishing behavior on their apps since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
Naturally, this has led to a change in user behavior and demands for tighter safety and security measures and dating platforms are now being held to account by their users more than ever before. When asked if they have seen an increase in customers asking for more protection from fraud and scamming, 65% of dating professionals surveyed said ‘yes’. This natural response to the risks of online dating has put safety top of mind and in fact, is now a catalyst for platforms to take action. According to dating executives we surveyed, customer requests for increased safety are now the biggest driver for change in safety policies and vendors (32%), followed by new tools (21%) and competitive market pressure (16%).
This got us thinking about the steps modern dating apps are already taking to increase user verification processes and champion safety across their organization. As we know, a lot of the information needed to validate a user can be gathered when someone first sets up their profile. Yet, without a universal industry verification standard in place for platforms to follow, we see apps requesting different levels of information from their users during set-up. When asked what details their platforms currently request during profile set-up, date of birth (81%), email address (77%), and first name (69%) were the most common. This was followed by mobile number (60%), last name (45%), and Zip/postal code (41%). This data throws up some interesting questions about whether the industry should be taking a collaborative approach to user verification to build more consistent safety protocols across modern dating platforms.
All of the above are important credentials that start to build a picture of each user for apps to validate. But with scammers are also getting smarter, it can be difficult to check if a user is real with this information alone. Having such limited details makes it impossible to verify a person’s criminal history or potential sex offender status, which in today’s modern dating world, are two vital elements to consider. As romance fraud proliferates, deeper background checks that aggregate a larger pool of data from public records are becoming a viable way to stop more bad actors in their early tracks.
Positively, it seems many apps are rising to this challenge and committing more investment to the cause. Our data found over half of dating brands (53%) will be spending more on safety in 2021 than the previous year – a critical step in the fight for safer online dating experiences.
Building for a better future
The growing safety concerns are not only a risk to daters. It is also presenting many hurdles for dating platform providers. It was shocking – but not surprising – to learn four of the five biggest challenges were safety-related, with video and live streaming safety, female user safety, scaling
safety and unknown post-pandemic user behavior ranking high, in addition to the current underuse of AI moderation. It seems platforms across the ecosystem are bonded by the challenges of user safety and the uptake in virtual dating options has created new risks and concerns to overcome.
What’s also clear is the commitment from brands to up their safety game to build a better future for their users. When asked to select their top three priorities for the year ahead, a strong focus was placed on safeguarding and connecting with users amongst other business priorities:
- User safety and security – 59%
- Business growth – 40%
- Increased downloads – 40%
- Customer loyalty – 36%
- Brand awareness – 34%
We also asked the industry what they would like to see their apps incorporate to better protect their members in 2021. Interestingly there are some clear hot spot areas, with more security, fewer fake/scam accounts, feedback when a user is reported, better image recognition and verification checks all common areas of focus. With more tools and intelligence readily available, brands can continue making inroads with strong partnerships that will level up their user verification and safety efforts.
So, what does this tell us? We know the fight against dating fraud is far from over, but some of the progression points unveiled in our data shows tides are turning. The demand for safer experiences is strong amongst modern daters. Yet, with more recognition of risk, brands are committing to answer users’ calls for increased security more than ever.
This research shone a light on the state of user safety and where the future is heading. Regardless of their position or progress, one thing is certain, it takes the right resources, technology, and a committed and collective response from dating platforms to push user safety to the top of the agenda and build trust that will set brands apart in a crowded market.
As dating apps battle it out for users, brands that offer safe spaces for daters to meet and interact both virtually and physically will be best placed for success and security both now and in the future.
RealMe is an online reputation platform dedicated to building a new era of trust and transparency across the U.S. Internet. RealMe’s integration empowers users with trustworthy identity verification and instant access to more than 275MM personal Reputation Profiles. RealMe uses publicly available individual background information that can include criminal and
civil court records, lawsuits and liens, work history, financial details, sex offender status, personal reviews, and more to make online interactions and transactions safer. Using RealMe also allows people to manage their reputations to improve their lives personally and professionally.
RealMe offers no-cost, turnkey solutions that protect users on dating apps and online marketplaces; or any time strangers meet socially or professionally, online or off. No matter the capacity in which a new person comes into your life, RealMe allows everyone to make a more informed decision about trustworthiness.