Be wary of who you swipe right on in the world of online dating — it may cost you.
A woman came across a man on dating app Tinder claiming to be a U.S. Army captain and quickly fell for him. He had promised to take care of her and her children, according to a report from Gizmodo, if he could just have money to get home. By the time she realized she was being swindled, she had sent him more than $700. After that, he blackmailed her with nude photos for more money. “I don’t know if you can help, but I’m scared,” the woman wrote in a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. “I just think its wrong to victimize and rob people, just because they’re lonely and vulnerable.”
Stories like these are not uncommon: As more Americans turn to dating apps for romance, the risk of being swindled by fake accounts has also grown. The online dating industry in the U.S. is worth more than $1 billion, according to market research group IBISWorld. Malware bots prey on singletons swiping through Tinder and other location-based dating apps, in an attempt to trick them into handing over valuable information like bank account numbers or passwords.
Like the fake U.S. Army captain, these scammers trick them into thinking they are someone they are not and, in many cases, wiring money. This kind of “catfishing” — a term born from a 2010 documentary about a man who begins a romantic relationship with a woman online who lies about who she is on her profile — resulted in nearly $500,000 in losses in the U.S. between 2015 and 2016, according to the Better Business Bureau.
In response, app makers have taken steps to make sure their users can be sure they’re dealing with a potential mate, not a potential thief.
Location-based dating apps like The Grade and Tinder are forcing their members to connect through Facebook FB, +1.27% to create more transparency about age and real first names (or, at least, as they are given to Facebook). On Facebook, there’s a limit to how many times users can change their birth date, even if they don’t publicly display it. If someone changes it and wants to change it again, they will likely have to wait a few days before they can edit it anew.
Don’t miss: Dating sites are cracking down on liars
Now a new crop of new services are emerging to address these risks. Legitifi, a California-based startup, launched what it claims is the first social ID verification app in early 2017 and says more than 10,000 users have signed up since.
Here’s how it works: Legitifi plugs into users’ existing social media apps to verify they have the same name and photo across multiple platforms. The app also allows verification through a person who knows the user directly through a feature called ‘Vouch.’ Users on online dating apps can request to see someone’s Legitifi profile to verify they are a real person. The service has other safety measures as well, including searching the sex offender registry to vet its users. In June, the Supreme Court struck down a law banning sex offenders from using Facebook, making it possible for them to join Tinder.
Dating sites Zoosk and Badoo have their own in-house verification features. Other services like iReal and Blume, both dating apps, claim to solve the problem using in-app cameras for face detection. Users who don’t want to rely on an app for this process, however, can request somebody FaceTime call or Skype with them to verify their identity before meeting up in person. Alternatively, cautious online daters can do a reverse image search on Google to see if the photo has appeared anywhere else online.
Don’t miss: 10 things dating sites won’t tell you
Also see: Americans are giving bitcoin as a wedding gift
John Callahan, chief technology officer of security company Veridium said privacy policies also change, especially if companies are taken over. A third party option not controlled by any one entity, like Blockchain technology, could be a more secure route for verification. Blockchain is the technology on which digital currency bitcoin runs. When somebody sends another person bitcoin to pay for something, the transaction is sent to a network of computers for verification.
Once the transaction is verified, it’s added to a shared public ledger of all bitcoin transactions called the blockchain. Because it is shared and based on computer verifications, the blockchain can’t be modified or falsified. IBM, Accenture, Microsoft have all introduced technologies that would deliver blockchain-based identity verification in recent months. “We are at the very beginning of this,” Callahan said. “But I applaud companies working to empower two-party identity proofing.”
Blockchain is complex and, as such, it may be difficult for the average person to implement directly, said Mike Gross, director of product management at Experian Global Fraud & Identity. He sees a federal verification option as more likely or more convenient option. He said there is a real need for a “trusted source” or fintech leader to create a verification process on dating sites and other s
ites, just like Facebook and Twitter, which verify users by asking for a government identification document like a passport or driver’s license.
And in the meantime? “Always be leery of giving away your information,” Callahan said. “Probably your most valuable asset is your digital identity.”