As more and more Canadians turn to the internet to find true love, many are becoming susceptible to online scammers and there appears to be insufficient systems in place to prevent such fraudulent activity.
Canada was ranked seventh in the world for being most susceptible to online scams according to a 2015 survey. The types of scams that online daters are vulnerable to range from meeting people who had used fake profile photos to financial losses. (The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reported that in 2015, Canadians lost over $16.9 million in romance scams.)
“When the scammers go very far to the extent of maybe ripping off their victims, these victims usually don’t come out to report such information because it’s kind of an embarrassing thing. It’s a tricky situation,” said Carleton University’s Borke Obada, a computer science graduate student who conducted a preliminary research study on the topic.
Obada admits she has fallen for online dating scams in the past, which is what motivated her to find out what security measures others were using because she thought there weren’t enough formal systems in place to weed out the bad apples.
“Even though the dating sites try to screen for scammers, it’s next to impossible [to be completely thorough],” said Obada.
She found a handful of common self-regulated methods among online daters:
- Omitting some personal information on their profile
- Setting up an in-person meeting in a public place
- Looking for red flags among requests from potential dates (such as nude photos or money) and trusting their gut feelings
- Social media “stalking” and following up with direct questions
Obada found that most users of online dating site had a difficult time striking the right balance between sharing too much information on their dating profiles and not sharing enough.
“[Our interview subjects] testified to the fact that when they were trying to be safe and they decided to screen the information they put out there, they realized they weren’t getting as much dating requests as possible,” Obada told Global News.
What makes things even trickier is that none of the online daters could come to a conclusion on what was “too much” information. Obada cited past online dating security studies which found that even uploading a profile photo can make the user vulnerable due to the sensitive nature of information associated with it on a dater’s online profile.
Is there a solution?
Some of Obada’s interview subjects had fallen in love with scammers using false identities, only to have their hearts broken when they discovered the deceit.
Unfortunately, Obada’s study was inconclusive on any concrete, permanent solutions to avoiding scams while using online dating sites or apps.
“When it comes to love there’s no scientific solution to how to prevent your heart from being scammed,” she said, adding her interview subjects just wanted to “follow their hearts” in hopes of finding true love.
“This is unrealistic because a lot of people fall into scamming problems because they think they’re following their hearts and it leads them astray,” she said.
Obada believes there needs to be better methods instituted by the companies that run the dating sites and apps as well as stricter legal consequences for scammers.
“The aim of the research was to show that we don’t really have anything in place in terms of security on dating sites,” she said. “We need to sit down and figure out how we can keep Canadians safe from falling for these scamming attacks.”
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre recommends people looking for love online should be wary of people who:
- rushes to profess their love too quickly,
- seems distressed or worried about a loved one who needs money,
- talks about good friend or loved one in another country that is coming to visit or needs help,
- or mentions Western Union or MoneyGram.
If you’ve been a victim of an online dating scam, you can report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.