A college student’s guide to help avoid dating app scams

Nyrmah J. Reina 20 Jun 2024

Want to meet that special someone offline? Here's how to tell if you should go for it or if it’s a scam.

New people to meet, new dating opportunities! Some might say that dating ranks high—right there with freedom and partying—as one of the perks of college life. However, finding your future fling may come with a bit more danger... and not the fun kind.

If you plan to use a dating app, not only do you have to worry about coming up with a cool, cringe-free opener, but there's also the added threat of scammers trying to get your money instead of your heart.

To help you swipe safely and avoid these con artists, we’ve created this guide with five of the most common scams you may encounter—including the red flags that let you know it’s time to put down your phone and go outside.

1. Catfishing

Probably one of the most well-known cons out there, catfishing is when a person on the internet pretends to be someone they’re not. This allows them to engage in all sorts of social engineering tactics to take advantage of their victim.

How to avoid it:

  • Go for verified profiles. Most apps offer users the ability to verify their identity by sending additional photos of themselves to the platform or by connecting an .edu email to verify their school.
  • Ask questions about campus life. A person from your school must know about the professors people love or love to hate, which building belongs to what programs, and what cafeteria foods to avoid. If they don’t, disengage.
  • Take a good look at their pictures. Be aware of AI-generated photos. Look for indicators like unusual-looking fingers, irregular asymmetry in clothing, or garbled text in the background.

2. Deepfake scams

This goes beyond a beautifying filter. Scammers may use deepfakes to catfish you or even create a whole new persona. You might receive manipulated videos or audio recordings that make it all seem real.

How to avoid it:

  • Follow the same tips to avoid catfishing. Going for verified profiles, asking questions about daily campus life, and looking for signs of AI may help you weed out the fakes.
  • Analyze media critically. Be skeptical of videos or audio recordings that seem too good to be true or out of character for the person.
  • If something’s off, don’t engage. You might feel the urge to verify if the person’s real or not, or if they’re catfishing. But if you can’t confirm anything after snooping around on social media, don’t engage with the account, or try to call or meet the scammer. The only thing left to do is to report the account.

3. Advanced fee fraud

Advanced fee fraud happens when someone matches with you, says they need money to advance the relationship (for a car to meet you, a new outfit for a date, etc.), and then ghosts you forever—unless they think they can get even more money.

How to avoid it:

  • Remember that love don’t cost a thing. As a good rule of thumb, never send money to anyone on the internet, especially people you don’t know personally.
  • Ghost them first if they ask for crypto or gift cards. Instead of asking for money, scammers may want to throw you off by asking for a crypto transfer or gift card. Don’t fall for it.

4. Extortion/Sextortion

Extortion or sextortion can happen when cybercriminals get their hands on sensitive data and use it to blackmail victims. Even if they don’t have the information or create deepfakes to coerce you, they may try to intimidate you into submitting to their demands.

How to avoid it:

  • Protect your personally identifiable information. Avoid including any sensitive or confidential information on your profile. The less they know, the less leverage they have.
  • Use secure communication. Use the app's messaging system instead of moving to more personal platforms like email or social media until you are sure about the person's identity.
  • Be careful of what you share on social media. Likes are nice, but online safety is nicer. Be careful of what you share, and if you do share, limit what can be seen and who can see it. 

5. Fake dating websites

Fake websites are created by scammers to trick unsuspecting users into sharing their personal information or financial details. These websites may imitate popular dating apps or platforms, leading users to believe they are on a legitimate site.

How to avoid it:

  • Check the URL. Always double-check a website's URL or domain to ensure it matches the official website of the dating app or platform you are using.
  • Be skeptical of paywalls. Be cautious of websites that ask for unnecessary personal information or payment details upfront. Most dating apps are freemium (meaning they’re free to start).
  • Use an antivirus software. Install reliable antivirus software on your devices to detect and block fake websites and malware.

Security is sexy

Dating can be so much fun, even if it comes with its share of awkwardness. You should be worrying about when and how to approach your crush, not if someone’s out there to get your money or information.

However, dating scams aren’t disappearing any time soon. With that in mind, it’s best to stay informed, vigilant, and avoid them at all costs. If you notice something weird, trust your instincts and don’t ignore it. There’s no use in trying to make red flags appear pink.

Stay safe and happy dating!

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