Only two years ago did steamy, hookup app Tinder hit smart phones across the nation. Today, they claim one billion matches among users. But not everyone on the app is who their profile says. 21 year old Kristin Shotwell, a junior at the University of North Carolina, was one day approached by a friend who showed her a profile, using her picture, of some girl named “Kim.” It said Shotwell was on the University of Georgia in Athens, when in fact she was on her own campus. Her friend texted her a screenshot of the Tinder profile. Shotwell told NBC News, “That is when it hit home, when I saw my face on a bio that had nothing to do with me.” Of course con artists have used love as a ploy forever. But dating apps are making scams much easier to pull off. All a computer savvy con artist has to do is piece together a profile from information found on the internet, a photo here, a little information there and viola. For Shotwell, the profile and other photos were acquired from her Facebook page. But she says she made all of her photos private. The Internet Crime Complaint Center follows such crimes. The multi-agency entity says since 2012, dating app and website scams have cost Americans $55 million.
Though relatively new, Tinder boasts 10 million users. It has been so popular, corporate giant IAC recently bought more stock in the company. It is already a majority holder. Yet it felt the need to acquire another 10% to the tune of $500 million. Still, though popular, it may be a playground for charlatans. At this point, there is no way of knowing. It’s too new to have any statistics, yet. Security response manager Satnam Narang, from internet security giant Symantec told NBC News, “Because there are so many people using the app, it’s a ripe target for scammers.” Tinder matches you up with other users. You can select either to accept or reject them. But if a swim suit model or a shirtless man with a six pack responds very excitedly to your acceptance, you could be up against a bot. Bots are software that can give canned responses to questions. Some are easy to notice. They aren’t the best conversationalists. Ask something simple or even out of the ordinary and you are liable to foul them up. Still, every once in a while one slips under the radar. NTT Com Security consultant Chris Camejo said, “People are suckers when it comes to relationships. Show a guy a picture of a pretty girl and he will do pretty much anything.”
Many security experts agree. There are usually two types of scams you can run on a dating website. The first one is as mentioned, using bots. This is a low-quality, less time consuming, but high volume method. These scams are designed to deliver malware. Some also get users to adult websites. There are users on Tinder have reported, for instance, that after accepting a fake profile, they were brought to a game called “Castle Cash.” But Tinder in an email to NBC News said they were “aware of the accounts in question and are taking the necessary steps to remove them.” The other strategy is to have a fake profile, make contact and work a person, in order to get access to their money. This is analogous to the old swindle where a supposed U.S. serviceman, who after exchanging letters for some time, asks for a loan to buy a plane ticket, in order to meet in person. But once they receive the money, they never show up. Though Tinder has not had this kind of thing happen yet, other sites have. FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth in an interview on NBC said that these scams come from all over the world. Two Colorado women recently bilked 384 online daters out of $1 million, all told. Foxworth said that for the victims, “The emotions that they display range from anger to severe sadness and depression, and often times they criticize themselves for being duped out of their money.” He added, “It’s crushing emotionally and it can be crushing to them financially. It takes a toll.” Some aren’t outright financial cons, but instead mere hijinks. The scammer may be angry, lonely or just plain bored. Of course, it is important to be on your guard when using these sites. Most people are honest. But if you just get tripped up by a false profile, laugh it off. If they ask you for money get rid of them immediately, and report it if you can. For more on this subject read, How to Avoid On-line Dating Scams by Mitch Conway.