The internet can be a scary place. Scammers, creeps, and malware seem to lurk around every corner, waiting for unsuspecting users to come along. Unfortunately, dating sites are no exception—not even our love lives are safe from cyberattacks.
Luckily, you can follow some simple practices to boost your security in the online dating world. Let’s look at a few of the threats you might face and how you can defend yourself from them.
1. Insecure Websites
Be smart about which websites and apps you use. For the amount of personal information they deal with, many dating sites are astonishingly insecure. One study by security tech company UpGuard found popular sites like eHarmony and PlentyOfFish seriously lacking in basic security safeguards. Even Match.com’s security had some holes, according to UpGuard’s rating system.
What to Do: Check Site Security and Don’t Give Out Valuable Info.
Any site transmitting personal information should be using secure sockets layer (SSL) or transport layer security (TLS) protocol. To verify a site’s security, look for “https” at the beginning of the web address or a lock icon in your browser’s address field. If you don’t see one or the other, don’t put any financial or personally identifying info into forms on the site. This also goes for online shopping sites and social platforms.
You should also consider the fact that even major sites with excellent security can have data stolen under the right circumstances—we saw plenty of examples of this in 2016. If you have information that should remain private, keeping it off of the internet entirely is the safest bet.
Unfortunately, scammers are all over dating sites. They’ll say all the right things and work to build trust and sympathy—you may even find yourself falling for them. And once the relationship is established, they’ll ask for something: money, personal information, or your address, for example. The false pleas can be very compelling, but you’ll end up in a bad spot if you fall for them.
What to Do: Avoid Sending Private Information or Money—Especially If You’re Part of a More Vulnerable Group.
Never send money to anyone you meet online. You should also avoid giving out any information that might let someone know where you live or work—people out there are after more than money. Don’t forget to protect your information on social media sites, too; if you don’t have tight privacy settings on your profiles, a scammer could easily search Facebook or Twitter to find data you didn’t share on the dating site.
Some groups are more vulnerable to these sorts of scams than others. As more adults ages 55–64 go online to find companionship, they become common targets for dating-site scammers. The same holds true for people fresh out of relationships, who may be more willing to find a new partner; so if you’re on the rebound, keep your eyes open.
Not everyone you meet online is a real person—some accounts are actually run by bots. Bots are basically small pieces of software or code that are programmed to read your messages and respond back. The goal of a bot’s creator is usually to get you to either send money or personal information, like a credit card number. Other times they may try to get you to download malware disguised as a picture or app of some sort. It’s usually pretty easy to tell if you’ve got a bot on your hands, but they can be pretty convincing sometimes.
What to Do: ID the Bot, Report the Account, and Invest in Antivirus Software.
To defend against this sort of thing, you need to first identify whether you’re dealing with a bot or not. Here are a few warning signs that a user isn’t human.
- They type really fast. If you match with someone and they are immediately sending you messages at speeds that seem way too fast for a person, that’s a strong indication that you may be chatting with a bot.
- They make no sense. Bots usually have a set of canned responses—some of which may seem strange in the context of the conversation. If you ask someone what their favorite wine is and they respond with “Yes, I find you very attractive too,” you might be dealing with a bot.
- They have unusually attractive or professional profile pictures. Since bots aren’t people, their creators have to find profile pictures from external sources. A lot of times they’ll use head shots found on Google. If you think a picture is fishy, do a reverse Google image search on it. This will let you know right away if it’s a fake, stock photo.
Even if you can’t verify whether an account is a bot, avoid downloading and opening files from sources you don’t trust completely. If you can identify the account as a bot, report it to the dating site you’re using right away. Finally, use a good antivirus program, and keep it—and the rest of your software—up to date.
In addition to the tips above, we have one more suggestion: if something doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to back away. Online dating can be tricky because we’re often exposing a more vulnerable side of ourselves. These tips should give you a solid toolkit to keep malicious users from taking advantage of that vulnerability while you’re out there looking for love.