How to Protect Your Online Dating Profile from Stalkers and Identity Hackers
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.
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.
.@TinEye is a fantastic resource along with google reverse image search to expose fraudsters.
— ? ? ? ???? (@neoengel) February 27, 2017
In reality though, you’re using a dating site to attract a suitor , 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 . 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 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 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.
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 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).
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 . 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 .
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 . I would even go as far as using a specifically created email address , 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).
-ENABLE 2FA ON YOUR ACCOUNTS
-GET WHOIS FOR YOUR DOMAINS
-CONSIDER A VPN
-FLOSS YOUR TEETH
This is not a joke tweet. Do all of these now.
— ??? (@SydWeiler) February 12, 2017
Furthermore, 2FA should be enabled where available . It adds an extra layer of protection to your online dating account.
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 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 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.
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 , 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!