Hackernoon logoOnline Dating and Cybercrime: Be Aware of These Potential Dangers by@TonySwan

Online Dating and Cybercrime: Be Aware of These Potential Dangers

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@TonySwanTony Swan

While online dating is a lot of fun, it brings various risks to the table. Dating site hackers often target vulnerable communities to accomplish online identity theft and other types of crime. The Ashley Madison hack from 2015 is one of the most prominent examples. 
In July, a group named The Impact Team stole Ashley Madison user data. The website enables extramarital affairs and needless to say, the data breach was a huge issue for its members. Over the course of three days, The Impact Team leaked 25 gigabytes of data, including the personal and financial details of users. 
There were real names, addresses, credit card records and even individual user search histories leaked.  
Online communities quickly started combing through the data to find out if anyone famous was having an affair behind their spouse’s back.  The implications of the leak went way beyond potential blackmail. The leaked data archive contained 1,200 email addresses from Saudi Arabia. In the country, adultery is punishable by death. 
On August 24, a pastor and a seminarian professor killed himself. In his note, he pointed at the data leak as the reason for committing suicide. 
It’s easy to see how things can get pretty serious when personal information, romantic and sexual preferences are on the line. 
Cybercrime is a real thing in the world of online dating. If you want to enjoy the process and be safe, you will have to be aware of some common online dating security issues. 
Types of Romance Cybercrime 
The FBI annual report about cybercrime suggests that romance-related fraud is the second most common type of online crime after compromised corporate emails. 
According to 2018 statistics, romance fraud cost a total of 363 million dollars in the US in 2018. 
Romance fraud can have many shapes. 
Dating website scams aren’t the first or the most common type of criminal activity connected to online dating communities. 
People impersonating someone, getting their matches emotionally attached and asking for money is a very, very common scenario. Typically, the scammers are located in a third-world country but they attempt to impersonate a Westerner. They target older individuals who aren’t that aware of cat fishing and fraudulent online activities. 
Other common fraud and crime scenarios include: 
  • Internet identity theft: using somebody’s photo and impersonating that individual to build an attractive profile and scam people. Often, Facebook profile pictures and images from other social media are used for the purpose. 
  • Dating website or app hacking: cyberthieves may decide to target less popular and smaller online dating communities. These are typically characterized by lax security measures and a database can be breached effortlessly. There are so many online guides and tutorials about how to hack online dating sites in the dark web that it’s not even funny. 
  • Blackmail and harassment: online dating hacks reveal a ton of information about the user. This information can later on be used to blackmail an individual. Membership in an LGBT dating website, for example, could easily become a reason for blackmail (especially if the person isn’t out yet). 
  • Offers to buy hacked dating profiles: if you do a quick Google search, you will quickly come across offers to buy hacked dating profiles. In 2016, a hacker advertised the sale of 27 million dating website credentials on the dark web. The asking price at the time was 20 bitcoins or approximately 8,700 dollars. 
  • Escort services: many dating websites have fake profiles created by escort service providers. Hence, they’re offering paid love rather than an actual relationship. This is a fraudulent activity as dating apps are meant for individuals rather than sex workers. 
Protecting Yourself from Online Dating Crime 
As you can see, there are many types of fraud and crime pertaining to online dating. Some of these illegal activities are easy to spot while others happen to be a lot trickier. Protecting yourself and enjoying online dating is heavily dependent on choosing the right platform and following a couple of simple security measures. 
Start by selecting the right online dating website. 
There are numerous reputable online communities recognized for the authenticity of the profiles and the verification of new measures. While a hack attack may still occur, you can at least rest assured that you’re interacting with real human beings. 
Next, choose a strong password and change it every few months. Hackers can easily hijack profiles that aren’t protected adequately. A good password consists of letters, numbers and special characters. 
Once you’re done with these measures, move on to the interactions with platform users. 
Do not open links that somebody sends you, especially if you’re just starting to chat with that person. These could easily be linked to phishing or identity theft attempts. 
Obviously, being asked to transfer money is a big no-no. The same applies to request for the sharing of personal financial information like credit card number or bank account. There’s really no need to be carrying out financial interactions with an online entity. 
To be on the safe side, individuals should refrain from speaking about their address, their financial circumstances or job. Communication via the platform rather than by email is also a good choice in the very beginning. As things progress, the communication can be taken out of the dating app. Still, being selective about such interactions is one of the keys to safety. 
As the world of online dating evolves, so does the nature of cyber threats pertaining to such activities. 
Online dating is a lot of fun and it does open up opportunities. Being “digitally literate,” however, is an essential to enjoy the process without losing money or facing blackmail. 
Anyone who believes they may be experiencing cybercrime via a dating platform should get in touch with the authorities. Digital extortion and fraud are criminal activities, regardless of the fact they take place within the online realm. Each country has authorities that investigate such issues and prosecute the guilty parties. Even if an issue appears to be minor, it should still be reported.

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