For as long as dating apps have existed, scams have taken place on them. But they’re getting smarter, more sinister and easier to fall victim to.
A quick scroll through the ‘dating advice’ or ‘scams’ forums on Reddit reveal thousands of people, predominantly women, warning of a scam taking place on dating apps that could will either leave you penniless or a potential victim of revenge porn.
The scam looks like this: the scammer will join a dating app, take the steps to become verified so they look just as legitimate as anyone else, and start forming connections with other app users. Then, the scammer gets closer to particular users, pretending to form a genuine, sexual and/or romantic interest in them in order to obtain intimate pictures, so they can blackmail the victim.
Kiera*, 21, believes she was almost a victim of this common scam. She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I was talking to a guy for about two weeks on a dating app and then, last month, we agreed to meet up for drinks at a bar near my house.’
When Kiera arrived at the bar, she couldn’t find him.
‘He was nowhere to be seen so I messaged him and his personality had suddenly flipped,’ she recalls. ‘He had been so nice before but now he was saying that he wouldn’t meet me unless I “showed him what was in it for him” and sent nudes. He wanted them right away.’
‘I was so upset and blocked him and just went home. I couldn’t understand how someone could have such a horrible change in personality and how he could just treat me like that.’
When Kiera spoke to her friends, they believed he was trying to get nude images of her so that he could blackmail her.
Alex, a 19-year-old student and Reddit user, spoke to Metro.co.uk about her experience. ‘This guy and I had been talking for about a month online,’ she shares. ‘We lived pretty far away from each other and we were both busy so we didn’t meet. I also live with my parents and they don’t know I’m dating.’
The relationship progressed quickly. The man Alex had been talking to told her he loved her, that he couldn’t wait to meet her, and she was excited for the relationship to make it into ‘real life’.
‘Around the three week sort of mark, we had a pretty heavy sexual conversation that turned into cyber sex,’ she explains. ‘We were both doing stuff to each other over FaceTime.’
But Alex’s match was recording the entire thing.
‘He turned into a total monster,’ Alex tells us. ‘After the FaceTime session he said good night to me and was acting all sweet. But the next day I got a very blunt message telling me he had filmed it and that I needed to pay £1,000 or he would put the video online.’
Feeling like she couldn’t tell her friends or family, she wrote about her story in a dating app forum.
‘I found out on Reddit that this is pretty common and it’s been happening to loads of people,’ she reveals.
‘I think it’s the deception that hurts the most. I’m not stupid. I know guys like to just get nudes off of you and I know some of them post them online and show other people. I know blackmail happens. But I can’t get over pretending to love someone just to do that.’
Alex realised that, during their Facetime call, she hadn’t actually shown her face and would be unrecognisable in the video, so she didn’t send the money and blocked the scammer on all platforms.
‘I don’t think the video has ended up anywhere, maybe he didn’t bother because he lost his leverage, but that doesn’t stop me from checking revenge porn sites every single day and waiting to see my own vagina on there,’ she shares. ‘I’m completely traumatised by the whole thing.’
How to watch out for scams on dating apps
The frequency of this scam seems to be growing, so we spoke to dating experts and lawyers to understand how to keep yourself safe on dating apps, which warning signs to look out for around scams, and what your options are if you fall victim to one.
Dating and relationship coach Christiana Maxion says scams are on the rise, with scammers forming a cyber relationship with their victims and asking for money transfers ‘for all sorts of reasons’.
‘There are so many innocent people being exploited in their search for companionship, it’s really saddening,’ she tells us.
But there are a few ways people can try to stay safe on dating apps and be vigilant of scamming.
Maxion suggests people to stop messaging on a dating app after a couple of days and move to a social media or messaging app of your choosing.
Of course, scams can happen anywhere on the internet, but she notes that ‘Instagram is a great way to see if this person has mutual connections to you, when was the last time they posted, who is commenting, are there any likes, when was the profile created and more’.
‘You can use this as a one-step verification of this person’s identity,’ she notes.
‘If this person is serious and has plans to meet in person, get the date scheduled within the first week of matching on an app,’ Christiana recommends.
‘I also encourage daters to FaceTime before the date. See if you have chemistry, whether this person looks like their profile, and if they’re authentically representing themselves. A quick FaceTime should do the trick and either get you excited for the date or prompt you to cancel.’
‘And please, don’t ever transfer money to anyone,’ she stresses.
Often, scammers will show red flags. Maxion says this can look like not sharing their social media, refusing to FaceTime or show their face on video calls, asking for personal information that they don’t need, asking for nude photos early on, along with your address, passwords, etc.
Pippa Murphy, sex and relationships expert at condoms.uk, recommends being extra cautious who you send nudes to.
‘Even if you trust the person that you’re sending intimate photographs to, you never know how the relationship might change in the future,’ Pippa says.
It’s never the victim’s fault if an image gets out. In fact, it’s a crime known as ‘sextortion’ and is a criminal offence, but it does happen.
Therefore, be extra cautious and only send nude photos to those that show no signs of manipulative behaviour.
What to do if you’re a scam victim
If you do fall victim to a scam like this, Murphy recommends monitoring your online presence. Whilst the thought of Googling yourself may seem weird, it’s helpful to know how you’re perceived online by Googling your name. You could even set up a Google Alert that sends you an email whenever a certain phrase is shared on the Internet, such as your name. This will allow you to be instantly notified if something potentially damaging is shared on the Internet.
In the case that this has happened to you, Murphy recommends collecting as much evidence as possible and reporting it to the police.
‘As it’s a criminal offence, you can report this to the police by calling the non-emergency number 101,’ Pippa recommends. ‘If the perpetrator of the crime is overseas there may be limited things the police can do, however reporting this will help the police learn more and, therefore, prevent future victims.’
To help build your case with the police, try to collect as much evidence as possible, this would include screenshots of the messages where the blackmail threats were made, bank details they shared with you and any other relevant communication that were made both on the dating app and outside of the dating app.
Emily McFadden, associate in the Abuse Claims Team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, tells us that this may fall under revenge porn, or image-based sexual abuse, which is on the rise – especially on dating apps.
Sharing people’s intimate photos or videos with the intention to cause stress is a criminal offence under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.
‘Perpetrators face up to two years in prison, and a fine,’ says Emily. ‘Campaigners have recently been successful in also expanding this protection to include if someone threatens to share your intimate images; this became a criminal offence on 29 June 2021.
‘If this happens to you, you can block and report the person via the app you are speaking to them on. You can report their actions – including threats to share – to the police.
‘If your images are shared, you can get help from the Revenge Porn Helpline, to have them removed.
‘You can also take civil legal advice on getting an injunction to prevent them from sharing the images, and on getting compensation for the harm and distress they have caused you.’
How to remove an intimate image from the internet
If someone does post intimate photos of you without your permission online, all is not lost. Whilst the process differs depending on where the photo is hosted, here is how you can get some images removed. If your image has been shared on:
How to file removal requests
Google – you can file a removal request with them.
YouPorn – you can file a removal request with them
Pornhub – you can file a removal request with them.
Xhamster – you can file a removal request with them.
X Videos – you can file a removal request with them.
Social media – it is most likely against their community guidelines and, therefore, can be reported via their ‘report harmful content’ section.
The UK government has recently increased funding for the Revenge Porn Helpline (0345 6000 459). A helpline is a place for people to report being a victim, but also a source of support which helps take images down.
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