Tinder might be the hottest dating app around. There are 57 million people in 190 countries using the service, and Tinder users go on 1 million dates every week. Founded in 2012 by Hatch Labs, a tech startup incubator, Tinder has grown into the most-used dating app in both the U.S. and the U.K. If it seems like everyone you know is checking Tinder on their phones, it’s because the app boasts some 1.6 billion swipes every day.
Tinder’s simplicity contributes to its popularity—if you have a Facebook profile, you can start swiping with just a few taps. No Facebook? No problem. All you need to sign up and swipe is a phone number, profile picture and 500-character profile. Once you’re signed up, Tinder’s GPS function sends nearby singles straight to your phone.
There’s a downside to Tinder’s simplicity, however: It’s easy to set up fake profiles, Tinder bots and scam accounts. Online dating scams are more prevalent than you think. Experts suggest that 1 in 10 new dating profiles are fake, and nearly 25% of online daters have been contacted in a way that made them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. There’s a financial risk, too, as romance scams cost Americans more than $143 million in 2018 alone. It’s not unreasonable for online daters to ask “Is Tinder safe?”
What is a Tinder scam?
As with other types of fraud, Tinder scams take many different forms. Law enforcement defines a romance scam as any type of scheme in which someone fakes romantic interest in another person, with the intent of obtaining sensitive personal data or money. When it comes to Tinder users, some of the most common scams include:
The Tinder catfishing scam
Catfishing scams aren’t unique to Tinder, but the app’s format makes it easy to create a fake profile and lure unsuspecting singles into a relationship. Although some people catfish out of loneliness or a desire to get revenge on an ex, the majority of catfishing schemes involve trying to get money from the victim.
Catfishing targets are swindled out of $2,600 on average, although the figure jumps to nearly $10,000 for victims age 70 or over. Perhaps the most famous catfishing victim is “Australian Idol” winner Casey Donovan, who was involved with a nonexistent man named Campbell for six years. As she explained in a television interview:
“Hope kept me there. To think that no-one could actually ever do that to another human being and to think of all the [expletive] I’d already encountered in my life, to be at that point and to just have everything fall apart really hurt.”
The Tinder verification phone scam
Although Tinder does have verified accounts, these are reserved for public figures, celebrities and brands, and the verification process is initiated by the account holders themselves. The fact that some accounts have verification badges makes this scam seem plausible.
How it works: A match, which is actually a bot, asks you if your account has been verified. When you say “no,” the match sends you a “verification” link and asks you to get verified before the conversation can continue. The link goes to a third-party site, which asks for your personal information and a credit card number.
In most cases, your information and credit card are used to sign you up for adult website subscriptions that typically cost more than $100 a month and are nearly impossible to cancel.
Tinder bot messages scams
Bots are the bane of social media and dating sites and are used to gather your personal information for a variety of digital financial scams.
How it works: A match (bot) will strike up a conversation with you, and at first, the bot does a good job of simulating actual conversation. However, before long, it sends you a link to download a game or chat app so you can get to know each other better.
Once you click the link, it installs malware onto your phone or you’ll be directed to a site that collects your personal information for the purpose of financial fraud.
Tinder Skype scam
The Tinder Skype scam is nothing more than old-fashioned blackmail using modern-day technology. The fraudster uses Skype or other messaging apps to get compromising photos or information that can be used against the victim to obtain money.
How it works: You get a match with a person using a fake profile and begin a conversation. These people may spend days or weeks engaging in increasingly intimate conversations, an activity known as grooming. When the time is right, the match asks you to get to know each other face-to-face over Skype. Men are more frequently targeted by Tinder blackmail scams, perhaps because they outnumber women on the app by about 2:1.
Ultimately, the scammer obtains compromising images or videos of you and threatens to expose them unless you pay up.
A tech worker in New York named Billy recently shared his experience with “sextortion” in a MarketWatch interview. A beautiful 23-year-old woman approached him online and immediately started sending him suggestive messages. He quickly agreed to Skype with her, and the explicit sexual language continued.
Soon after, the woman contacted him and showed him screenshots of their Skype session, along with a list of names and Facebook profiles of several of his family members and co-workers. She had even uploaded a video of their Skype conversation to her YouTube channel. The woman demanded $800 and threatened to send the video to his family and friends if he didn’t pay.
Billy paid the $800 through a money-wiring service, but a short time later, the woman was back asking for another $1,500. Of his experience, Billy said:
“I know for a fact not everyone would make this error, but if you find the right vulnerable person, you can make a lot of money. That’s what makes this so dangerous.”
How can I avoid Tinder scams?
A two-pronged approach is your best defense against Tinder scams: learning to recognize Tinder red flags and knowing how to use the platform safely.
How to spot Tinder scams
If you notice the following red flags, proceed with caution because you may be talking to a Tinder scammer or a bot:
- A single, very suggestive profile pic. Fake accounts often use sexy photos grabbed from the internet. A professionally taken photo or obviously photoshopped one is a red flag. If it looks too good to be true, a Google reverse image search might confirm your suspicions.
- Sexually explicit talk right off the bat. Scammers bet that a sexually charged and interested victim is more motivated to provide personal information or share compromising images. If the conversation turns sexy quickly, take a step back.
- Odd or stilted text conversation. Bots do a decent job making small talk, but when the conversation moves to more meaningful sharing, they go off the rails. If you ask a question and get nonsense in return, be wary. Also beware of questions like the name of your first pet or where you went to high school, since these are typical security questions for online financial accounts.
- Links or download requests. Never click or download anything in a Tinder conversation, at least not until you’ve met face-to-face and know you’re dealing with a real person.
- Unwilling to meet in person. Catfishing schemes revolve around fake identities. If the person you’re chatting with continually offers excuses when you want to meet up, proceed with caution.
- Hard-luck stories. Getting your cash is the ultimate goal of most Tinder scams, and aside from asking for it outright, tales of woe and hardship are the next-best thing. After all, if scammers can draw you in with a narrative of broken-down cars, lost jobs, stolen wallets or ill family members, you might offer to help them out.
How to stay safe on Tinder
Tinder offers great advice for using the platform safely. Specifically:
- Keep financial information private, and never send money to a Tinder match.
- Guard your personal data, including home or work addresses, daily routines and information about your children, if you have any.
- Communicate through the Tinder platform and use caution before moving to text or phone.
- Exercise good judgment with long-distance or overseas matches.
When you’re ready to move from Tinder to a face-to-face meetup, first-date safeguards apply:
- Meet in a public place and end the date if you feel pressured to move somewhere private.
- Share your plans with someone you trust.
- Take charge of your transportation and have a backup plan if you drive yourself.
- If you don’t feel comfortable at any point during the date, end it right away. Don’t be afraid to ask your server for help if you don’t feel safe.
Additionally, using a people search service is a great way to verify information about your match before your first date. Such reports include publicly available information like age, marital status, employment history, and even arrest and conviction records.
What should I do if I’ve been scammed?
If you’ve been scammed, you’re not alone. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of online dating scams reported to the FBI tripled. In 2016 alone, the FBI investigated nearly 15,000 romance fraud cases.
FBI Special Agent Christine Benning said, “The internet makes this type of crime easy because you can pretend to be anybody you want to be. You can be anywhere in the world and victimize people … perpetrators will reach out to a lot of people on various networking sites to find somebody who may be a good target.” In other words, it can happen to anyone.
Your next steps depend on what happened to you. If you suspect someone is trying to scam you, report your concerns to Tinder right away. It’s easy to do right from the app. If you’re swiping, open the user’s profile, tap the dots at the upper right corner and select “report” from the options menu. You can also report a user from your match list by tapping on the user, opening the message screen and clicking the red flag to report. You should also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
If you’ve sent money to a Tinder scammer or shared any financial data, get in touch with your bank and credit card companies right away. You can also file a fraud victim alert with the major credit bureaus. Once you provide a phone number, you’ll get an alert if anyone opens an account in your name.
You should contact the police immediately if you’ve been threatened on Tinder or feel unsafe, especially if you’ve shared personal information such as your phone number or home address with the scammer. Anyone with your real name or number can potentially use that information to learn your home or work address.
Whatever you do, don’t blame yourself—romance fraud can happen to anyone. “I’ve been doing computer security for over 30 years, and I’ve learned that falling victim to a scam is not an IQ test,” said Roger A. Grimes, a cybersecurity expert who writes about dating scams. “The brightest, smartest, richest people on our planet have been duped by dating scams.”
Approach Tinder with the same common-sense safeguards you apply to other online activities. Don’t share personal information with anyone online, and never send money to a Tinder match. Go slow and keep interactions on the platform until you know who you’re dealing with. Use a people search service to verify information about your match and uncover any potentially worrisome information, especially if you’re planning to meet in real life.