Let’s face it: dating is hard, especially if you’re in the military.
Even if you’re not currently serving, finding the time to even “get out there” seems to be a rare event, forcing many people to look for relationships online.
While online dating has become the norm (just like online banking, online socialization and watching movies), one aspect of it can be rather daunting – do you actually know who you’re talking to on the other end?
One of the big issues with online dating is the “romance scam,” an issue so widespread that it’s practically considered a legitimate industry in countries like Nigeria and Ghana, raking in an estimated 1 billion dollars every year.
Affecting civilians and service members alike, the scammers frequently pose as someone else in order to extract money, personal information and other assets that would prove profitable to the goals of the scammers.
While the average scam victims are women – often widows – from their 40’s to 60’s, anyone can be targeted by someone pretending to be someone they aren’t in order to obtain money by deceit.
In 2016, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received almost 15,000 reports of romance scams.
Online dating sites are generally pretty diligent at blocking and removing the profiles of suspected scammers, but they are not 100% effective. According to online dating site Zoosk, approximately a quarter of profiles that get blocked on suspicion of fraud are attempts at impersonating members of the US Armed Forces.
To protect military service members from instances of stolen valor, and to protect members of the site from scammers, Zoosk was the first dating site to launch a military verification feature, which they call Insignia, to verify whether or not a user is a member of the US Armed Forces.
Zoosk partnered with SheerID, a long-trusted verification company, to provide active duty military and reservists the opportunity to verify that they are legitimate service members: verified service members receive a 20% discount when they subscribe to the dating service.
In addition to their Insignia feature, Zoosk was also the first dating site to implement a photo authentication process in 2014. Members can choose to take a selfie video of themselves using one of Zoosk’s mobile apps: moderators compare the video to the profile pictures to verify that they are authentic. If the profile pictures are authentic, a green “photo-verified” checkmark is applied to them.
Zoosk Insignia adds an additional layer of protection: to obtain the insignia badge on their profiles, Zoosk members who serve in the US Armed Forces need to first verify their profile pictures, then submit information about their identity and service status in order for Zoosk to verify.
While nothing is absolute, Zoosk claims that photo verification and Insignia are reliable processes that could prevent the vast majority of abuses.
Daniel Mori, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, says “the Achilles heel of photo verification and Insignia is their being elective features: members aren’t obligated to submit for verification. On the other hand, of our 40 million members, about a quarter have a verified picture, and several thousands have verified that they are US service members through Insignia. Members who browse our community can trust that profiles with a ‘photo verified’ and/or an Insignia badge are some of the most authentic in the world of online dating”.
With over 40 million members on the site, Zoosk is one of the largest global online dating services and one of the few to offer discounts to military personnel.
Zoosk says it understands that to remain a leading dating service they have to be proactive when it comes to protecting their users.
“We want users to be aware of the avoidable risks of online dating, and we want them to date with protection,” Mori says.