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Avoid Cyber Threats In Online Dating

Released October 24, 2019 06:08 PM
Cyber dating and the apps that make it possible attracts millions of people; many in search of companionship, many seeking long-term relationships, and many seeking to steal your identity or worse.  The world of online dating is fraught with top-of-mind risks (Is that photo really the person I’m talking to?  Could this person be a predator?), but there is also a growing list of concerns related to data privacy.

The fact is, dating sites and apps have a history of being hacked.  For example, in 2018 was hacked and the responsible cyber criminals sold the data of 1.1 million users, including personal habits, weight, height, eye color, job, education and more, online.  In early 2019 detailed user records of more than 42 million dating app users were found on a Chinese database that was not even protected by a password.  The user records found on the data base contained everything from IP addresses and geo-locations to ages and usernames, giving potential hackers plenty of information to take advantage of.

Even more recently our Department of Public Safety took a report from a citizen who was using a dating app and made a poor decision to send intimate pictures to the person they connected with. The victim has now paid thousands of dollars to the person to keep those pictures off social media channels.  The perpetrator, in this case, has not gone away and continues to threaten and demand more money from the victim.

But, there are also many stories of people who found each other via online dating apps and are in very happy relationships today, so we do not want to scare any adult away from using them.  We just want everyone to be safe with their online dating activities.

With that in mind, here are a few tips that we encourage all online daters to use.

Account Security
As with all of your Internet accounts, use a strong, unique password and two-factor authentication, if it’s available.

Beware of anyone sending you links, and especially links using shortened URLs.  Hackers will try to lure you away from the dating app to sites that can more easily harvest your data.  This is one of the most common Tinder scams.  Rest your cursor over any link before you click it to see the address.   

Only ever access your dating app on a secure WiFi network.  An even better option is to protect the Internet connection of your dating app with a trustworthy VPN.  This will add an extra layer of security to the app’s encryption.

Privacy And Social Engineering
Never share your full name, address, or place of work in your profile.  Tinder, Bumble and Happn all allow users to add information about their job and education.  With just this information and a first name, Kaspersky researchers were able to match a dating app profile to a LinkedIn or Facebook account 60% of the time.

Do not link your account on a dating app to your Facebook account.  This makes it easier for hackers to connect your social media profile to your online dating one.  It also would expose your data if Facebook were to suffer a data breach.

Using the same logic, do not link your Instagram, Twitter, or WhatsApp accounts to your dating app or share them in your profile.

For accounts or relationships based on your email, don’t use your everyday email address.  Instead, get a separate, anonymous email just for that specific app or relationship.

Always disable any location-sharing features in your accounts on dating apps.

If you are uncomfortable sharing your cell phone number with someone you just met online, there are services that allow you to create a separate phone number.  These services give you temporary phone numbers that last a couple of weeks for free or for a small fee.  Since they are temporary, it is hard to use such a phone number on your dating app account, but it could give you some time to meet your matches in real life before you trust them with your phone number.

If an account looks suspicious, try doing a reverse image search of the profile pictures.  If your search finds the photo is from a modeling agency or a foreign celebrity, you are likely looking at a fake account.

Eventually, you will have to share information about yourself.  You are trying to convince someone that you are interesting enough to meet.  Try to talk more about your interests, ambitions, and preferences and avoid specific information that could identify you.  More “I love pizza” than “My favorite pizza restaurant is on the corner of Main St.  and 2nd Ave.” Never be afraid to say “no” if someone asks you for personal information that you’re not yet comfortable sharing.

Avoid sending digital photos to users you do not trust.  Digital photos can contain metadata about when and where the photo was taken along with other information that could be used to identify you.  If you must share a photo, be sure to remove its metadata first.  Also, always keep in mind that any explicit pictures you send could be used for blackmail.

If you are chatting with someone and they are responding incredibly fast or if their responses seem stilted and full of non-sequitur questions, you should proceed carefully.  While it is possible you have enchanted someone so thoroughly that they are struggling to respond coherently, it is more likely you are chatting with a bot.  Online bots are getting harder and harder to detect, but one test you can try is to work gibberish into a phrase, like “I love a;lkjasdllkjf,” and see if the bot repeats the non-word or transitions into a non-sequitur question.  (If it’s a human, you can always cover by saying your phone slipped.)

This may seem obvious, but if someone asks you over a dating app to send them money, your answer should always be “No.”

Do not immediately friend your matches on Facebook.  Once someone has access to your Facebook account, they can see your friend and family network along with your past activity and location.  Wait until you have been dating for a month or two before friending them.

Physical Safety
Have a mutual understanding of boundaries.  No matter what kind of date you have planned, it is always safer to know exactly what you’ll be doing.  By discussing a plan beforehand, you can both go into the situation knowing what you are and aren’t comfortable with.

Meet in a public place first.  No matter what kind of date you’re going on, it is always safer to meet in an open and public place first.  Avoid meetings that take place in remote areas, vehicles or anywhere that makes you feel uncomfortable.  

Always let someone know where you are.  Before meeting up with someone, let a friend or family member know where you’ll be.  Some apps let you share your location with others so that someone can keep an eye on you during your date.