Dating apps are growing and becoming more virtual as Americans continue to shelter in place. It was predicted that the “number of smartphones dating apps will reach 26.6 million this year; that’s an 18.4 % increase from 2019.
People still want to find love and connection during these trying times,” said Vincent Yip, eMarketer forecasting analyst at Insider Intelligence. “Since people can’t meet in person, many have adapted to finding someone online.”
Dating apps like Match.com and eHarmony have adjusted their messaging to the current climate. For example, in a recent TV campaign, eHarmony encouraged consumers to virtually meet others, via its app, from the comfort of home. In its Q2 2020 letter to shareholders, Match Group—whose portfolio includes Tinder, Match.com, OkCupid and Hinge—reported a surge in usage across demographic groups. “Usage levels for younger users and females remain above pre-COVID levels, although not as dramatic as at the height of the pandemic-related lockdowns in March and April,” Shar Dubey, CEO of Match Group, said in the letter. “Additionally, usage among older demographics and males, which initially declined with the onset of the pandemic, has recovered and is now above pre-COVID levels.”
There has of course been vis a vie dating apps sex extortion schemes and perhaps the most flagrant has been the Ashley Madison breach which occurred back in 2015. Zak Doffman, a cyber security contributor for Forbes, reminds us that Ashley Madison is an online dating site for folks looking for extramarital and other adventurous sexual encounters. In 2015 the site was hacked, and the “Impact Team” stole 32 million records. Today this hack coming back “to haunt users in a highly individual and personalized extortion scam.” The victims are given a limited amount of time to pay a bitcoin ransom worth about $1000.00 Vade Secure has reported that in the last week alone it has detected several hundred examples of this extortion scam, primarily targeting users in USA, Australia and Indian (Forbes August 21, 2020)
Online dating apps most likely are here to stay even in a post Covid world. As behavioral health providers, here are 15 Safety Tips for Online Dating compiled from Coffee and Bagel dating site and Safety.com:
- Do your own research. Check out your online date before you ever meet. Do a google search and see what comes up. Check out the person on linked in, or Facebook or Instagram. If you are older and happen to have a grandchild, they can help you in nano second. You can teach this all to your clients in a session
- Use a Google Voice Number Instead of your Own – Google will give you a free number that you can record. Keep your number private.
- Video chat before you ever meet, you can use google chats, Microsoft teams. Zoom, Skype or Face time. Remember that folks can have fake backgrounds in a zoom world. This can reduce being “Catfished”.
- Chat by phone before actually meeting in person– You can get visual cure just by chatting by phone etc. Also, you might just catch someone off guard.
- Drive yourself or take public transportation – You want to keep your independence and you do not want to take them home with you.
- Never send money, gift cards, or account info to matches — especially if you haven’t met them in person.
- Keep your exact workplace and address a secret until you’ve met in person and have built trust over time. (Some experts advise also keeping your last name private until after your first date.)
- Tell your friends or family about when & where you’re meeting a match for the first time. Provide your own transportation, and always meet in a safe, public place, such as a coffee shop.
- Watch for warnings — such as they go from 0-100. Oftentimes, scammers use artful tactics to try and sweep you off your feet. They might shower you with compliments or use flowery, romantic language right off the bat. They might give you a wholesome Disney-eqsue monologue about how they’re “just looking for love,” and “U the one 4 me, babe.” But I know you’re smarter than that, so you’ll see your match moving too fast as a red flag.Another red flag: They’ll want to take things off the app and start texting, calling, or using other messaging apps (such as Kik, WhatsApp, or WeChat) ASAP. To cut to the chase, they may even include this contact info in their bio.
- Remember – their Stories pull on your heartstrings. Gone are the days when all scammers were Nigerian princes. Nowadays, they’re architects, oil-rig engineers, geologists, make-up artists, nurses, and more. But one of the most common careers scammers claim to have is that of a soldier, or any career related to the military. And oftentimes they are oh-so-conveniently stationed far overseas where they can’t meet you in person.But their real job title? A sly scammer. They may even claim to be religious (a tactic used for inspiring trust) or tell you a sob story: they’re a recent widow and their partner has passed in a tragic accident. Or perhaps they have a sick child or parent they care for. While these unfortunate circumstances may be true for a small portion of singles involved in online dating, one of the telltale signs you’ve matched with a scammer doesn’t come until later — when they ask for your money.
- They’re just too good to be true. If your match has profile photos that belong in a magazine catalogue, you’ve either met a model, or a scammer. And while both exist in real life (models aren’t Bigfoot, after all), it would be very unlikely for a real person not to have any casual, non-professional photos in their profile pic lineup.In short, if your match has too-good-to-be-true photos, your match may indeed be too good to be true. But just because your match is in sweatpants in their pic (which, to be clear, is not a good dating photo best practice) doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.Take note of other profile/photo inconsistencies. For example, if their profile says they’re 32, but they look only 22 in their picture, that’s a red flag. Likewise, if their profile claims they have a high level of education, but their grammar is disjointed, something might be up.
- Meeting in Person Isn’t an Option. We know that the most meaningful connections happen face-to-face, so on Coffee Meets Bagel, we encourage members to meet in person. So, if your match isn’t keen on meeting in real life, you should raise an eyebrow.One of the most common excuses scammers use to avoid meeting in person is claiming that they work abroad. And if they won’t even agree to chat on the phone, you should hear alarm bells.One way you can combat catfishing — someone pretending to be someone they aren’t online — is by fact-checking. Try running a Google reverse image search to check if they have multiple profiles under different names or with different info. Some scammers may also steal photos from influencers, low-profile celebrities, or stock sources.
- Walk away if they ask for money, gift cards, or account Info. If your match asks you for money, gift cards, or your account information, stop all communication immediately. It is extremely likely this person is a scammer.But it isn’t always clear right away. Many scammers will play the long game by trying to build trust with you over time. Then, suddenly, there’s an “emergency,” and they need money quickly. Here’s a few types of fake emergencies they may claim to have:
They were robbed and need money
They have to book a last-minute business trip
They need a loan
They or their family member has a medical emergency Sometimes, scammers may also ask for gift cards, such as an iTunes gift card. Yet, you should never trust a match who claims they need anything from you but your time and words, even if they promise to pay you back.Another way a scammer might try to steal from you is less direct: by gaining access to your accounts. While some may directly ask you for your account info, routing numbers, social security number, or driver’s license info, others may be sneakier.If your match asks you strangely specific personal questions about old addresses, your pets’ names, or schools you’ve attended, be cautious. They could be trying to gain access to your accounts by resetting your passwords via security question answers.
- If you meet in person, carry pepper spray – You always want to be prepared!
- Above all Stay Sober