Any platform that allows communication between two or more strangers is open to exploitation by scammers.
Online dating is particularly attractive to scammers as users are receptive to contact from broadly unqualified strangers, which enables the scammer to easily create a false identity.
There are a variety of common scams. Some of these target the user in an attempt to get money out of them directly, and some defraud the host dating site, for example by moving genuine users onto a competing site, or defrauding the site’s affiliate scheme.
All scammers, be they human or bots, need two minimum requirements in order to execute a scam:
- The scammer needs to create a false identity. These are almost always in a different geographical location to their true identity, with false photos, profile text, age, and even gender. Not only does this protect their identity, but it establishes credibility and/or desirability.
- The scammer will attempt to move the target off the host messaging system. The moment the scammer is detected by the dating site, their communication channel with the target is cut off, so they need to move the target onto a less secure messaging system as early as possible. In some scams, the sole objective is to move the user onto another dating site.
Attempts to detect scammers typically look at the characteristics which follow from these two requirements – for example using a fake photo, accessing the site from a country other than their stated location, or sending contact details in messages.
Examples of some basic tests include:
- Checking the user’s IP, using an IP lookup service such as Maxmind, and ensuring it matches their stated location.
- Checking the user’s photo, using Google image search.
- Scanning messages for scammy phrases such as “god fearing”.
As well as removing scammers, education has an important part to play in tackling the problem. The issue has attracted plenty of mainstream media coverage, largely focusing on the financial and emotional cost to victims.
Australian consumer watchdog, the ACCC, advises dating sites to inform users about risk from scammers as part of their Best Practice Guidelines. In the UK, the Online Dating Association requires that member sites have “easily accessible safety information for users, explaining the potential risks with online dating”, and ensure that “all user profiles are checked and that appropriate arrangements exist to detect fraudulent or misleading profiles”.
Research from Scamalytics suggests that a typical mainstream site can expect between 5% and 10% of new profiles to be fraudulent.
All these fake profiles need to be detected and removed before they can interact with genuine users.
And while techniques to detect these fake profiles can be implemented, scammers constantly find new strategies to circumvent them, making the fight against scammers an on-going battle.
This article is from our report on Scammers & Dating Fraud, which you can download for free below: