How to Protect Your Online Dating Profile from Stalkers and Identity Hackers
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Modern day match-making is a money spinner. Picking up a date digitally is now as common as lactose-free milk alternatives — everyone is doing it. A core tenet of online dating is openness. Potential matches want to see the real you, open and truthful. The problem lies in just how open to be, and how much trust we put in not only the potential matches, but others who use the site, too.

Being exciting and alluring doesn’t mean you have to forgo your personal privacy. Let’s take a look at curating the perfect blend.

Sharing Private Information

Tinder is a game changer. It shifted online dating into a seamless stream of images, discarding people with a simple swipe. However, Tinder is by no means the epitome of online dating. I don’t think there are many that would disagree. “Traditional” online dating sites are still going strong, this subgroup of websites having lost most of its stigma throughout the noughties.

How to Protect Your Online Dating Profile from Stalkers and Identity Hackers Pew Research Adults Using Online Dating Sites
Image Credit: Pew Research

Tinder relies on minimal information, with maximum impact given over to the user image. Conversely, traditional dating sites require a combination of both. Consider the following.

Your Images Identify You

I hear you say, “Well, duh, of course they do.” However, even if you’ve used a clever combination of slightly misleading information to obfuscate your identity, those images can easily be identified. Services such as TinEye, and even a basic Google reverse image search, can reveal exactly where your image crops up.

In reality though, you’re using a dating site to attract a suitor 5 Signs You Shouldn't Date That Guy You Met On The Internet 5 Signs You Shouldn't Date That Guy You Met On The Internet I was an online player. Here are the tricks I used to win women's hearts – and how to spot them. Read More , and an image is a massive part of that. Whether you consider that fickle or not, there are legitimate reasons for keeping an identity secret. These include those exploring their sexuality, attempting to escape abusive relationships, or even users that want to ensure their colleagues don’t stumble across their profile.

Some online dating services even offer “incognito” style profiles that can only be viewed when there is direct communication between users. I’ll elaborate on those in the “Consider These Dating Site Privacy Settings” section, below.

Oversharing Isn’t Good

Be mindful of how much information you share Online Privacy: Do You Share Too Much Information? Online Privacy: Do You Share Too Much Information? Sharing has always been a prominent part of what the Internet is and how it functions. And with social networks exploding in popularity in the past several years, sharing is probably the one aspect we... Read More . Do you keep your social media platforms locked down, only sharing with friends and family? Broadcasting information across a dating site runs the same risks. Additionally, there is absolutely no guarantee that sharing more information will be effective.

I try not be too cynical. But the amount of data openly shared on dating sites makes me pause for thought. How is the data you provide being used by the dating site? Do they keep everything under lock and key, or is your information being bundled with thousands of other profiles, and sold to the highest bidder?

And, isn’t it best to keep some cards close to your chest? What will you talk about on that first date if you’ve already revealed that you have six toes and penchant for queuing in the post office?

Google Indexes Dating Sites

This isn’t strictly the case for all dating sites, but some major sites are indexed by Google. This means your profile becomes part of the searchable web. For instance, Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange found his OKCupid profile made the internet rounds after it was discovered. Want another one? Ross Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts (founder of the notorious Silk Road Darknet market), also had a public OKCupid profile.

Furthermore, there are numerous online services dedicated to scouring the web for name matches. These services don’t rely on your given name, but rather scour services for your online aliases. If you reuse a name or email address, your profile becomes instantly more discoverable.

Common Dating Site Scams

Keep track of what to share and what to keep under lock and key can be difficult enough without contending with scammers, too. Unfortunately, dating sites — and modern dating apps — are a happy hunting ground for all manner of fraudulent activity. Dating site scams are so commonplace How to Spot and Avoid an Online Dating Scammer How to Spot and Avoid an Online Dating Scammer Do you date online? You need to take precautions to protect yourself. Here are six things to keep in mind to help you spot and avoid scammers on online dating sites. Read More that even the FBI have issued warnings.

The sad reality is that the most effective scammers will tend to be the human beings who build trusting relationships over a long period of time with their targets.

And their targets genuinely fall in love with those individuals, even after the scam has been executed… The victim isn’t willing to accept that they’ve been scammed, or does accept that they’ve been scammed and is still in love with the scammer.

— Dan Winchester, Co-Founder Scamalytics

Most online dating scams have two objectives: money or identity fraud. Scamalytics, a company devoted to automatically removing scammers from dating sites (co-founder Dan Winchester was tired of manually removing scam accounts from his own dating sites, and Scamalytics was born), detect “up to 250,000” scam accounts every month. It is no surprise their client list includes CupidMedia, FreeDating Platform, DatingFactory, and Lovestruck.

What to Look For

Back to the scams themselves. There are several common dating site scams you should be aware of:

  • Doesn’t add up — The information your potential match provides is amazing… a little too amazing, perhaps. At closer inspection, some things just don’t add up. How could they have been a lawyer for 20 years if they’re only 31? If the numbers don’t match on multiple occasions, move on.
  • Is that really you? — The image doesn’t seem right. Have they used a stock image? Or perhaps the headshot of a professional model. A reverse image search will quickly establish if this is the person you’re talking to. If things don’t match up, move on.
  • Location, location — Their profile says they’re living in Miami, but their IP is coming from Nigeria. This is commonly covered by saying they work in Nigeria, or are on active military duty. If this is the case, ask for further proof. A recent picture of their dog-tags in situ, perhaps?
  • Trail of thought — Does the interested user contradict themselves? Or do they frequently alter their story? How about disjointed stories, where it feels like they’ve missed something? They could be using a pre-worked script to remove some of the leg work for their scam, and they’ve literally forgotten to copy and paste a section.
  • Let’s talk elsewhere — Following on from the lost trail of thought, some scammers will ask you to leave the confines of the dating app or site and chat via email or instant message. This immediately removes you from the safety of the site, where your conversation is protected.
  • Money up front — This is one of the single biggest red flags. As soon as a supposedly interested user asks you for money, you have to block them. A serious con artist might spend weeks, or even months building up a “natural” rapport with you before asking for money. The answer should always be no.

These cover the most common advances made by scammers, but there are more to watch out for.

Is Stalking an Issue?

Cyberstalking and harassment are an all-too-common occurrence. Dealing with online harassment What You Should Actually Do When Harassed Online What You Should Actually Do When Harassed Online The Internet has changed bullying. Let's take a look at what has changed, and what you can do if you find yourself on the receiving end of cyber harassment. Read More can be an extremely difficult and ultimately traumatizing experience. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast figures for cyberstalking borne of online dating. That is not to say it doesn’t happen, because I’m certain it does, and there is more than a little evidence to back this up.

For instance, even as I was penning this article, a former special and auxiliary police offer was facing stalking charges directly linked to his use of dating sites.

Authorities say Domingo Spinney, of Milford, used a bogus profile on the dating website PlentyOfFish to arrange meetings with the women at restaurants last December–but the person the women were expecting never showed up.

Instead, they say Spinney hit on them at the bar when they thought they were being stood up. They say he used a different name and asked for their phone numbers, and was rejected each time.

Police say he stalked the women who turned him down, slashing tires and throwing a brick through a window of a woman’s home.

Furthermore, anti-stalking and harassment groups regularly receive requests from individuals targeted through online dating sites. The Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service was formed in 2013, in the U.K. At the time, Paladin reported a “number of referrals from women who had met men online,” adding that at least three cases involved direct threats and actual violence, as well as that the men had previous histories of violence against women.

There is one simple cyberstalking fact: anyone can be a victim. And while it is virtual crime, the trauma is very real.

Swipebuster

Online dating sites and apps brought digital paranoia with them. Relationship and trust issues can quickly spiral when the possibility for infidelity is so easy. Correspondingly, a new wave of tracking and spyware tools Popular Apps and Games That Threaten Your Mobile Security Popular Apps and Games That Threaten Your Mobile Security As the saying goes, "If you're not paying for a product, you ARE the product." That's especially true for apps, which are often not secure. So what can you do about it? Read More designed focused on dating sites and apps have risen.

Swipebuster is a service dedicated to searching Tinder for specific profiles, be that a partner, lover, parent, colleague, and so on. Swipebuster claim to be able to locate any potential target. It is incredibly simple, too. You enter a name, age, and the last location the app was likely to have been used. It returns a series of Tinder profile pictures used recently in the specified area, and you can go from there.

It may be handy for investigating potentially adulterous partners, but it has much darker implications. For instance, the tiny sum of $6.99 could reveal the recent location of an ex-lover.

Consider These Dating Site Privacy Settings

Each online dating site and app will come with a litany of security and privacy options. At least, they should. As with all things in life, some sites take their responsibility seriously, and offer a wide-range of options. Others will skimp, offering the bare minimum.

It always worth doing your homework before signing up to a new dating site. Finding your private dating profile in the public sphere would be devastating, and isn’t unheard of (see Julian Assange, above).

Security Breaches

Users of dating site Ashley Madison received an extremely unwelcome shock in 2015. A hacking group calling itself “The Impact Team” stole the user data for the entire Ashley Madison site 3 Reasons Why The Ashley Madison Hack Is A Serious Affair 3 Reasons Why The Ashley Madison Hack Is A Serious Affair The Internet seems ecstatic about the Ashley Madison hack, with millions of adulterers' and potential adulterers' details hacked and released online, with articles outing individuals found in the data dump. Hilarious, right? Not so fast. Read More . The group demanded the dating site be shut down, lest they release the private information of every user. The site remained active, and the group released over 25 GB of private data, including directly identifiable information such as real names, home addresses, and email addresses. Marriages were ruined, and cheaters were certainly exposed Ashley Madison: What Happens Now We Know You're A Cheater Ashley Madison: What Happens Now We Know You're A Cheater The Ashley Madison dating site was recently hacked by hackers who threatened to leak the entire database unless the site closed. This week, the database has been leaked. Are your indiscretions about to become public? Read More .

Many online dating sites have experienced small data breaches. In today’s data driven climate, data is money and power, so it comes as no surprise that databases full of private information are frequent targets. However, you can decide upon the severity of the breach, as well as how the company reacted.

Change Passwords and Enable 2FA

It should go without saying that your online dating profile should be secured with a strong, single-use password 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember If your passwords are not unique and unbreakable, you might as well open the front door and invite the robbers in for lunch. Read More . I would even go as far as using a specifically created email address 5 Disposable Web Accounts to Keep Your Identity Safe 5 Disposable Web Accounts to Keep Your Identity Safe Identity theft is on the rise. According to StatisticBrain, between 12 and 15 million people lose an average of $5,000 per victim each year. One way to stay safe is with a disposable web identity. Read More , again with a strong, single-use password. This will protect your account, and cut the possibility of your email address being linked to other social accounts (if you reused an email address).

Furthermore, 2FA should be enabled where available What Is Two-Factor Authentication, And Why You Should Use It What Is Two-Factor Authentication, And Why You Should Use It Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security method that requires two different ways of proving your identity. It is commonly used in everyday life. For example paying with a credit card not only requires the card,... Read More . It adds an extra layer of protection to your online dating account.

No Social

Social login has undoubtedly sped up creating a new account with a new service. They’ve become ubiquitous, offering an easy alternative to cumbersome account creation Should You Think Twice Before Logging In Using Social Accounts? Should You Think Twice Before Logging In Using Social Accounts? Read More forms. The trade-off is having your whereabouts tracked around the internet by the social networks. The data is primarily used for advertising purposes — but that means being sold to a third-party client.

Using a social login creates a definite link between your profile and your online dating profile. We rest easy because we have faith in Facebook Using Social Login? Take These Steps to Secure Your Accounts Using Social Login? Take These Steps to Secure Your Accounts If you're using a social login service (such as Google or Facebook) then you might think everything is secure. Not so -- it's time to take a look at the weaknesses of social logins. Read More and Google, that they’ll keep our private data safe. But the sheer number of third-party sites purchasing access to this data means that at some point, somewhere, there will be a data breach.

Go Incognito

Several online dating sites offer an incognito profile mode. This is to help obscure your profile from unwanted visits, or block unwanted communication. It uses a different name on some sites, and has different functionality, too. For instance, OKCupid’s incognito mode makes your profile visible only to those you’ve liked or communicated with.

Other sites ensure your account is isolated from your social networks, making sure your Facebook friends aren’t made aware of your profile. Make sure to investigate profile settings before signing up to the online dating site, as it might not have the incognito mode you expect.

Stay Private, Stay Safe

Long story short, stay private. Share too much and you open yourself up to privacy and security issues. You might end up sharing more than a potential match wants, too. Security and safety are paramount. Your account must be protected with a strong password 7 Ways To Make Up Passwords That Are Both Secure & Memorable 7 Ways To Make Up Passwords That Are Both Secure & Memorable Having a different password for each service is a must in today's online world, but there's a terrible weakness to randomly generated passwords: it's impossible to remember them all. But how can you possibly remember... Read More , and 2FA where possible. Furthermore, stay away from social login, and don’t reuse quirky usernames or common email addresses.

Online dating has its quirks. It might be fun, or stressful, or terrifying. It doesn’t have to be a security and privacy nightmare. Good luck!

Has your online dating site profile been compromised? What happened to you? How do you obfuscate your account? Can you share any tips with our readers? Let us know your online dating experiences below!

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  1. Ryan Stevens
    March 20, 2017 at 8:57 am

    VPN can protect your online privacy, But now there are many VPN providers available which are the best? In reviewsdir, you know the best review about VPN. Then you will know which VPN is the best for your online privacy.

    • Gavin
      March 20, 2017 at 10:05 am

      Hi Ryan.

      A VPN won't really help in this situation. A VPN encrypts your internet traffic, rather than protecting your actual online identity. You could still be scammed out of money, your passwords, and so on, even if you're using a VPN.

      Cheers.

  2. likefunbutnot
    March 10, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    Since my Match.com account is 19 years old and I apparently get one OKCupid visit approximately every other month, I am thinking this is not the main problem I have with online dating.

    • Gavin Phillips
      March 15, 2017 at 11:01 am

      It is the people that are wrong, not you.