What’s Love Got To Do With It? 3 Dating App Fraud Issues That Can Be Addressed With Identity Verification

Sarah Cook
February 12, 2024

How to Increase Trust and Safety in Dating Apps

Dating apps and dating sites have transformed the way people meet, connect, and form relationships. These platforms have revolutionized our approach to finding love and companionship, offering an innovative and convenient way to identify and connect with potential partners.

But as every love song will remind you, relationships are complicated, and the fraud teams at dating app companies know the realities of this all too well. As their apps have become ubiquitous, so too has the prevalence of scammers and fraud-related challenges that put the security and trust of dating app users at risk. 

Looking for Love: Scammers, Identity Theft, and Online Dating

Public awareness of deceptive practices on dating sites has surged, partly fueled by sensationalism in the media and actual stories like the one shown in the documentary, Tinder Swindler. This heightened awareness has sparked a significant shift in the dating app industry. Companies are now in a race to enhance their digital identity verification technologies to safeguard their users and protect their own reputations.

For more information about how you can mitigate these types of fraud while enhancing your customer experience, contact us to speak with an expert.

The impact of popular culture on shaping perceptions of online dating and its potential pitfalls has actually been a big help to efforts to modernize fraud mitigation. Media portrayals shed light on the real-world consequences of fraudulent behavior, making users more cautious and demanding when it comes to security and authenticity on dating platforms.

As a result, dating companies are investing heavily in cutting-edge identity verification methods to reduce identity theft and the prevalence of scammers. They understand that building trust is crucial for retaining users and maintaining a positive reputation in the highly competitive dating app market. The right identity verification solution certainly arms them with the ability to authenticate users' identities, but it also provides the necessary capabilities to identify specific types of fraud patterns related to catfishing, blackmail, phishing, and a variety of romance scams.

There is an intricate web of challenges that dating app companies face in safeguarding their users. A primary focus for dating app companies is to get identity verification right in an effort to eradicate the various types of fraud and deception that can infiltrate their ecosystems, degrade the efficacy of their platforms, and render them non-compliant with their terms of service.

Rising Fraud is a Heartbreaker: Romance Scams on Dating Sites

Since the advent of dating apps, and indeed dating itself, scammers have been adept at exploiting individuals' vulnerabilities and captivating their attention with seemingly legitimate stories or adept social engineering

Online dating sites have been around since pioneered the category in 1995. While various forms of impersonation have always been a part of these platforms, the variety and creativity with which fraudsters manipulate them has seen a sharp increase in recent years. However, the nature of these scams has evolved, transitioning from quick, one-time exploits, like clicking on a malicious link, to phishing, and even more sophisticated and prolonged deceptions like "pig-butchering scams."

In fact, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) attributes the rise of romance scams to the widespread use of social media apps, the emergence of cryptocurrencies, and a host of other issues. Over the past four years, the FTC has documented a consistent increase in losses due to romance scammers. The figures climbed from $493 million in 2019 to $730 million in the following year, and they reached over $1.3 billion annually in 2021 and 2022. It's crucial to note that the majority of these scams often go unreported, underscoring the significant underestimation of the actual public harm.

Additionally, as the companies in this space have implemented increasingly rigorous guardrails into their systems, they’re finding that fraudsters have become more adept at evading user bans, implementing bots, and averting checks in legacy identity verification processes.

There are major concerns among dating app company fraud teams about where to prioritize their efforts, but the current state of fraud indicates three specific types of fraudulent user activity that need to be addressed. Let’s take a closer look.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do: The Impact of Ban Evasion

Ban evasion is a significant issue for dating apps, and it’s becoming harder to detect. In this scenario, when a user is banned or suspended from a dating app, that person may attempt to return under a different identity, leading to a variety of trust and misuse-related issues. 

Most importantly, ban evasion can compromise the safety and security of users on the platform. Banned users may have engaged in harmful or abusive behavior that led to their expulsion. Allowing them to rejoin the app under a new identity can put other users at risk of encountering the same behavior, harassment, and other potential dangers. Some users are banned for operating fake profiles or engaging in fraudulent activities. When they evade bans, they can continue deceiving and scamming other users, potentially leading to financial or emotional harm.

How Scammers Avoid Bans on Dating Sites

Here’s how it works: Dating app users who have been banned or restricted find ways to rejoin the platform under a new identity. There are a variety of ways users do this, each of which involves illicit practices that jeopardize the integrity of the platform and put users at risk. They include:

  • Creating New Accounts: The most straightforward method is for a banned user to simply create a new account using different (and fake or fabricated) email addresses, phone numbers, or social media accounts. This allows them to circumvent the ban and rejoin the platform as a new user.
  • Using Proxy Servers or VPNs: Some users employ proxy servers or Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to change their IP addresses. By doing so, they can make it appear as if they are accessing the app from a different location or device, making it more challenging for the app to track and block them.
  • Changing User Information: Banned users may alter their personal information, such as their name, age, or profile details, to create a new persona on the platform. This can make it difficult for the app to link the new account to the banned one.
  • Obtaining Stolen or Fake Credentials: In more sophisticated cases, users may acquire stolen or fake identification documents or phone numbers to pass through identity verification checks implemented by the app. This allows them to regain access under a new identity.
  • Social Engineering: Some individuals may engage in social engineering tactics to convince the app's support team that they deserve a second chance, such as claiming they were wrongly banned or that they've reformed their behavior.
  • Using Different Devices: By accessing the app from entirely new devices, banned users can avoid detection, especially if the app's tracking is primarily based on device IDs.

Ban evasion can become a cat-and-mouse game between dating app companies and users attempting to rejoin after a ban. To combat this issue, dating app companies must continually improve their detection methods through rigorous identity verification processes. It’s not enough to simply verify the basics of identity through standard KYC measures. Rather, users must be verified based on the persistent orchestration of data that ties them to the actual person attempting to join, not just to binary identity data points.

This is No Ordinary Love: When Bots Take Over Dating Apps

Bots can operate like actual people, even though they are nothing more than a piece of software. As AI becomes more advanced, bots can be trained to perform all manner of tasks, and are frequently used to infiltrate dating apps, posing a significant challenge to the authenticity and security of these platforms. Because they are specifically designed to mimic human behavior, they can create profiles that closely resemble those of actual users effectively. 

One common approach is for bots to impersonate genuine users. They use photos, personal information, and conversational patterns scraped from the internet that make them appear real, allowing them to establish trust and engage with other users. In a purely digital environment, they deliver all proof points that suggest an actual human being.

In fact, effective bot technology can initiate conversations with users through automated messaging. They can employ pre-programmed responses and engaging dialogues, contributing to their facade of authenticity. This can mislead users into believing they are interacting with real people (think about the chatbots we all use for customer service and other digital interactions).

Some bots are developed specifically to perpetrate phishing attacks and for data mining purposes. They may send deceptive links or messages that lead data app users to phony websites or fraudulent schemes with the aim of extracting personal and financial information. Bots can also mine user data from profiles, which can then be exploited for various purposes, including identity theft and spamming.

To combat these challenges, dating app companies must employ advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence to detect and mitigate bot activity. Alongside this, user reporting mechanisms and vigilant monitoring are essential to identify and remove bots from the platform. This approach helps ensure users have genuine and secure interactions while using the app.

Dating app companies are eager to combat the bot problem because it directly affects user satisfaction and retention. At best, data app users will lose trust in the platform once they realize they’ve been interacting with bots. But at worst, these users can become victims of financial and identity theft and even more serious threats. Dating app companies are aware that they must address the bot issue to improve user trust, maintain the platform's integrity, safeguard user privacy and security, and ensure they are compliant with their own terms of service.

Jenny, I Got Your Number: How Fraudsters Use Recycled Phone Numbers in Dating Apps

Research conducted by Prove in 2020 revealed that a staggering 37 million phone numbers undergo recycling each year. In addition to this, a remarkable 126 million new phones are activated, while 70 million phones are lost annually. These diverse scenarios, though seemingly unrelated, can have a considerable impact on the quality of customer service and overall satisfaction. 

This array of situations can be broadly classified as:

  • Number Changes: If an identity changes its phone number
  • Disconnects: If an identity disconnects/gives up a phone number
  • New Phone Numbers: Identities becoming associated with new numbers

The use of recycled phone numbers can be a significant issue for dating apps in terms of user identity and keeping users safe and secure. This problem arises from the reassignment of phone numbers by telecommunications companies to different individuals over time. Here's how it impacts dating apps:

  • Confusion and Misidentification: When a phone number is recycled, the new user of that number may receive text messages or calls intended for the previous owner. In the context of dating apps, this can lead to confusion and misidentification. A new user could inadvertently inherit the dating profile of the previous number owner, potentially leading to misunderstandings or impersonation.
  • Privacy Concerns: Users of dating apps often provide their phone numbers as a means of verifying their identity or for communication. If a recycled number is linked to a previous user's dating account, the new number owner may receive private messages, notifications, or even sensitive personal information intended for the previous user. This compromises the privacy and security of both the new and old phone number owners.
  • Safety Risks: Dating apps use phone numbers for user verification and authentication. Recycled numbers may be associated with accounts that have been banned or flagged for inappropriate behavior. When a new user unknowingly inherits such a number, they may inadvertently be subject to bans, restrictions, or even harassment intended for the previous user, potentially exposing them to safety risks.
  • Inaccurate User Profiles: Recycled phone numbers can result in outdated or inaccurate user profiles. A person's dating profile, including personal information and photos, may remain associated with the old phone number even after it has been recycled to a new user. This can misrepresent the identity of the new user and affect the accuracy of the profiles on the platform.

To address these issues, dating apps need to implement measures to ensure that recycled phone numbers do not lead to misidentification, privacy breaches, or safety risks for users. This might involve more robust identity verification methods, regularly updating phone number associations, and improving user education on how to update their contact information.

Let’s Stay Together: Using Identity Verification to Eliminate Dating App Fraud

The question then becomes: how do we apply identity authentication to eliminate dating app fraud and ensure that users can trust the platforms they use? It’s not just about creating an effective user experience, but one that will tie the user to repeated use because of their faith in the security and efficacy of the app. 

The key is to use robust user identity verification methods through multi-layered verification, ensuring secure access and trust in digital interactions with the dating app platform. By blending advanced authentication methods, fraud teams can enhance security while delivering seamless user experiences.

Leading brands across all markets are partnering with Prove to provide verification and fraud detection capabilities to power their customer experiences. The Prove Trust Score® API is a dynamic, real-time metric that gauges the reputation of a phone number, offering dating app platforms a comprehensive solution for identity verification and authentication. It also helps to identify and prevent bot traffic by assessing identity reputation through a range of authoritative indicators, including phone number and device tenure, SIM card swaps, velocity of change events, and behavioral anomalies. By analyzing these factors, companies can effectively uncover and obstruct bots. This is made possible because a bot generally exhibits a low Trust Score® value, often stemming from its brief tenure, rapid event changes, or association with high-risk line types, such as a non-fixed VOIP.

The Trust Score® API moves past legacy validation tools by evaluating user behavior patterns. Prove IdentitySM, Prove’s identity-matching solution, which uses Phone-Centric Identity cues drawn from authoritative sources precisely at the moment of a potential transaction, effectively counters fraud tactics like impersonation, phishing, and other types of account takeovers. The Trust Score® API provides versatility, enhancing the customer experience across various scenarios, from digital onboarding and digital servicing to verifying existing customers.

Prove's Trust Score® API is a powerful tool designed to identify and prevent bot traffic. It operates in real-time, assessing identity reputation through a range of authoritative indicators, including phone number and device tenure, SIM card swaps, velocity of change events, and behavioral anomalies. By analyzing these factors, companies can effectively uncover and obstruct bots. 

The challenge of addressing dating app fraud hinges on the ability to integrate identity authentication seamlessly into the user experience. Users should have faith in the security and efficacy of the app, which can be achieved through effective verification methods. These methods provide secure access and establish trust in all digital interactions within the dating app environment. By combining advanced authentication techniques, Prove empowers fraud prevention teams to enhance security while simultaneously delivering a frictionless and trustworthy user experience. In doing so, Prove paves the way for more secure, enjoyable, and authentic connections in the world of online dating.

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