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Online Daters, Take Safety Precautions

 According to a recent survey, 40% of straight couples and 65% of same-sex couples meet online. There are almost 8,000 dating sites worldwide and more opportunities through social networking sites. Sites include mainstream ones like Match.com, special interest ones like Gaydar (as the name suggests) or RocknRollDating (for musically compatible couples of any sexual preference, including “polyamorous”), and even ones for married folks seeking extramarital activity, like Ashley Madison.

Online dating has its risks. Daters can be exposed to false information (like fake user profiles), threats to physical safety, exposure of personal information, data security vulnerabilities, and “romance scams,” among others.

A Congressional subcommittee recently announced an investigation into safety concerns prompted by the prevalence of sex offenders on free dating sites, the use of dating sites by minors, and the sale or sharing of users’ personal information. The investigation was sparked by a recent Columbia Journalism/ProPublica investigation revealing that Match Group, the industry leader with $1.7 billion in annual revenues and the owner of over 40 dating platforms, screens for registered sex offenders on its paid Match app but not on any of its free apps, including Tinder, OkCupid, and PlentyofFish. 

Dating sites also raise information privacy and security issues. Once you provide personal information for your profile and the matching algorithm, the information is out of your control. Even if you cancel your membership, the dating site may retain it permanently. Depending upon a site’s privacy practices, the government, a prospective employer, or even data brokers that use personal info for marketing purposes may obtain your information.

According to the FBI, online daters can be also exposed to “romance scams” in which fraudsters strike up online relationships to steal victims’ money. According to a 2019 FTC report, in 2018, Americans lost $143 million to these scams. Last week, media reported that a scammer had conned an 80-year-old Oregon widower out of $200,000, purportedly as an investment to cover the costs to ship a 500-ton sculpture from China to the Metropolitan Museum.

Romance scams typically target older people. A scammer wins the victim’s emotions and trust, claims to have a financial crisis and then asks for money. After the victim complies, his/her money and “romance” are gone. Because the victim generally wires funds overseas or through third parties, it is very difficult to trace the money and find the scammer.

To avoid falling victim to a romance scam, think before you act. Don’t send money to people you don’t know or haven’t met in person, including through intermediaries. Be cautious about sharing your personal and financial information. Keep copies of all communications. If you think you’ve become involved with a scammer, report them to local law enforcement and regulators, the online dating site, the FTC, and the FBI.

A list recently released by a company called HighSpeedInternet.com ranks Maine the safest state for online dating and Alaska the most dangerous. New York is ranked as the eighth most dangerous state.

While singles today are likely to meet a future partner online, predators lurk on these sites. Online dating can be a great way to meet people but be vigilant of your safety and personal information.

 By Gille Ann Rabbin, Esq., CIPP/US, CIPP/E

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