In today’s digital world, online dating is big business. While the first online dating service was technically launched in 1959 – using a questionnaire and an IBM 650 to create matches – the rapid expansion of internet usage from the mid-1990s onward has seen exponential growth in the range of dating sites available. Since the launch of Kiss.com in 1994, there have been over 1500 dating apps launched from various locations around the world, all designed for one thing: matching you with a new connection.
The idea of connection is the reason that the online dating industry generated $2.23 billion in 2019. This revenue level is expected to surge for the end of 2020, after people around the world were confined to their homes for lengthy periods of time due to Coronavirus. It’s not just global pandemics that can induce a heightened sense of loneliness, though. Every year, Christmas can be an emotionally isolating time for many people – particularly as the spectre of ‘New Year’ can spark reflection, introspection, and a comprehensive review of life choices. This year, the combination of pandemic and yuletide will undoubtedly cause a further rise in dating site registrations and, while this means big business for parent companies such as Match Group, it also means big business for criminals and fraudsters.
What is romance fraud?
There are few things more fundamental to humanity than the seeking of connection. This natural quest is the reason why social media has become a cultural driving force for vast swathes of the global population. We type our thoughts into our device and send them out into the universe, hoping that someone, somewhere will spot it and respond. It’s simply a modern variation of actions that humans have taken for centuries – from messages in bottles, to flyers on community centre noticeboards. But, just as entrepreneurs and giant corporations alike have harnessed this innate human need for the purpose of profit, so criminals have seized upon that same need for their own nefarious purposes. The result is a vast online dating landscape that is fraught with danger, and filled with those that would cause harm while hiding behind a fake profile.
The term ‘catfish’ is often used in connection with romance fraud, though its meaning is actually not limited to romance fraud. ‘Catfishing’ is the use of a fake profile to lure a person into some form of relationship, for any purpose. Romance fraud is specifically the use of a fake profile for the purpose of defrauding someone through the promise of romance. There are several common types of romance fraud, perpetrated on a daily basis, even against people who consider themselves to be tech-savvy and ‘on guard’ in the online arena.
- Identity theft – Identity theft through online dating occurs when the perpetrator tricks you into sharing enough personal information, and providing enough access, to allow them to steal all the data that constitutes your presence in the world, online and in person. This can make everything in your life vulnerable – from your bank accounts, to your career.
- Money laundering – Users of online dating sites can be unwittingly lured into money laundering schemes when their online connections talk them into forwarding parcels or cheques. This will be under the auspice of a perfectly understandable and relatable dilemma, which is actually a fabrication to hook the target into playing a part in a criminal enterprise.
- Theft of money – While identity theft can also lead to theft of money, criminals will commonly ask for money to help them with a difficult situation, such as a seriously ill relative, or the aftermath of a car accident.
- Blackmail – When criminals are able to gather intimate information about you – particularly in photographic form – it enables them to blackmail you. This comes as a financial demand in exchange for not making the intimate information public.
Perpetrated in the online dating space, these are digital confidence tricks; a very particular form of cyber crime, specially designed to take advantage of our simple, human need for connection. Those behind these heinous activities use tried and tested strategies to identify their targets, find their vulnerabilities, and exploit them. They achieve this with the creation of fake dating profiles featuring fictional characters of their own invention, designed to appeal to the right people.
The good news is, online romance fraudsters carry out their crimes using identifiable strategies so, when you know what to watch out for, you can reduce the chances of falling prey to such criminals by using specific protective measures.
- Use only reputable dating sites – It seems like a fairly obvious point but, with so many dating sites now trying to cash in on a lucrative industry, it is important to stick to those that are widely known, and acknowledged as reputable. These industry leaders are the most likely to adhere closely to data protection regulations, and have earned their status through more stringent vetting of clients.
- Suggest meeting in a safe, public space – When you have been communicating with someone on an online dating site for a while, you can effectively ‘call their bluff’ by suggesting an in-person meeting. The venue should always be a safe, public place with which you are very familiar, and for a specific, limited time window. If the person with whom you are messaging is a fraudster, they will make an excuse – most commonly that they are away travelling, and not able to attend.
- Watch for inconsistencies – If the person messaging you is using a fake profile, you will soon be able to spot inconsistencies in their story. Be diligent about checking facts, dates, and times – comparing the stories they share from one message to the next, and with their profile information. Inconsistencies are major red flags.
- Watch for bad writing – Not everyone is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, but when writing in profiles and messages is filled with grammatical and spelling errors, this can be an indicator of potential fraud when viewed in combination with other signs. Romance fraudsters who are more advanced in cyber crime skills can sometimes use computer programmes to write for them. At the same time, a profile that claims to belong to a well-educated, successful person, but is filled with misspelled words and incoherent sentences is probably fake. This is also an inconsistency.
- Keep a slow pace – Fraudsters are only interested in their pay-off, so they will usually encourage you to move things along quickly. They will engage in a high degree of flattery and ‘love-bombing’ very early on. They will appear to want to know everything about you, and will want to move things to the next level. For them, this next level rarely involves meeting, but instead involves them defrauding you. If you insist on moving things slowly, they will either reveal themselves as fake or, more likely, will simply disappear.
- Never send money, information, or other items – Again, it sounds obvious when discussing the strategies of fraudsters to say that you can protect yourself by never sending any money, but these confidence tricks are exactly that – tricks of confidence. These criminals study people and work to earn trust in as short a time as possible. They are experienced and some can be very effective. Indeed, the reason so many criminals turn to this type of crime is because it often pays well.
How Private Investigators can help
Although these measures can provide a high degree of protection – not least by ensuring that you are aware of the signs, indicators, and red flags associated with these criminals – it is still possible to fall prey to such activity. As targets become more informed, criminals become more sophisticated. The nature of these crimes, as ‘confidence tricks,’ brings with it a degree of embarrassment and shame on the part of the target, because they ‘fell for it,’ and believed a fraudster. The unwarranted negative stigma surrounding the crime is sometimes compounded by embarrassment at using online dating services in the first place – something which is also unwarranted, given the popularity of online dating in general.
This is where a reputable, accredited Private Investigation firm can be of valuable assistance. Romance fraud is both very common, and increasing. The right Private Investigator will handle your case with the utmost discretion and confidentiality – working to deliver the truth in a manner that is admissible in court. OpSec Solutions are one such qualified firm, and have a great deal of experience in cases of romance fraud.
Using cutting edge, innovative technology in combination with tried and tested investigative techniques, OpSec Solutions use all legal and ethical means to provide the information you need to prove and recover from romance fraud. This information is always delivered as evidence that is admissible in court. With a team of personnel taken from government, corporate, military, and police backgrounds, OpSec Solutions can perform background checks along with the deployment of advanced software solutions to uncover the truth of the matter. All cases are handled as bespoke packages tailored to individual circumstances, with absolute sensitivity and discretion.
Call OpSec Solutions today to discuss your romance fraud concerns in complete confidence.