In the past two decades, we moved the majority of our everyday tasks and chores to the virtual world. It is nothing out of ordinary to shop online, have an online consultation with a doctor, open and manage a bank account. All of it can happen without having to make an appointment or leaving the comfort of one’s house.

This being said, it was only natural that establishing our online presence through social media became a big part of our online identity. According to statistics from 2020, an average person has a personal account on 8.8 different social media platforms. It is a noticeable difference compared to statistics from 2014. Back then, it was estimated that an average person has had a social media account on about 4.8 platforms. This, of course, also includes online dating platforms; dating websites and dating apps. 

Increase in the number of users can be also observed in the online dating industry. In 2020, online dating platforms and apps noted 270 million active users. It is a difference of almost 100 million new users since 2015, when the statistics estimated the number of users at 185 million.

The dangers of online dating

Due to the growing popularity of dating platforms and apps, it was inevitable that crime levels linked to online dating would also increase. However, it is important to note that it is not just about cybercrime and online fraud. Online dating, due to its’ specific nature and the lack of proper control and identity verification, often leads to crimes committed in real life.  

One of the most common fraudulent activities on online dating apps is catfishing.

Catfishing is a deceptive activity where a person creates a fake identity or fictional persona online in order to use social networking services or dating websites. The practice is commonly used in order to pursue a relationship through social media or dating platforms. And, although seemingly it might look like a relatively less dangerous type of online fraud, it is important to remember that catfishing is often the core of actual, dangerous crimes, such as so called romance scams. 

A romance scam is a tactic commonly used among dating platforms and social media. It  involves faking romantic intentions towards the victim in order to gain victims’ trust, use their good will and newly developed feelings. Once it happens, the goal is to convince the victim to send money to the scammer under false pretenses or to commit fraud against the victim.

Money-related scams are one of the most common types of crimes committed in relation to online dating. Statistics included in the FBI report from 2019 show that romance scams in the U.S and Canada alone cost the victims nearly 1 billion dollars between 2016 and 2019. Just in Florida, in 2017 alone, the victims of romance scams lost a total of 13 million dollars. 

Another form of catfishing is a tactic, which consists of a user setting up fake profiles on free dating platforms. Then, after luring in as many users – usually those who are older and less suspicious or aware of such tactics – they redirect them to a different dating platform or a phone number. Those tend to be paid subscriptions and premium phone services. 

The lack of identity verification can also lead to real-life crimes 

Activities such as creating fake identity for malicious purposes or romance scams, usually stay within the area of the online world and are considered cybercrimes or cyber frauds. 

However, it is incredibly important to remember that online dating, despite having its own bright sides and being immensely functional in today’s world, can still bring danger into our real life. It is especially essential to keep in mind in situations when users’ identities are not verified in any way. 

Studies show that since online dating has increasingly become more popular globally, the number of crimes of sexual nature has also increased. Dating apps, allowing users to interact with each other without proper identity verification in order to create connections, have become a place for criminals that gives them relatively easy access to a potential pool of their victims. 

A tragic example of that is the case of Susan Deveau. In 2016, on a popular dating website Plenty of Fish, she met Mark Papamechail. After a few months of developing their relationship and meeting for three dates, Susan has notified the police about an assault committed by Mark against her. A basic identity verification and background check would have revealed that Mark has been previously convicted for crimes of sexual nature three times. This could have easily protected other people, who would later potentially become his victims.

Dating apps and identity verification today

First and foremost, one of the biggest issues associated with online dating is the sense of anonymity. It is not required for a user to sign up using their real name – it is possible to use a random email address, a username or a name that is not linked to one’s personal details in any way. While it seems like a smart solution while dating online – being careful with personal details we share with others, it is certainly concerning that users’ real identity is not confirmed or verified in any way. 

Bumble and Tinder, two of the most popular dating apps in the world, took the biggest steps when it comes to reducing the risk of using fake photos by their users. Both of those platforms created an option for its users to get verified. In order to get verified by the platform and get access to all of the app’s options, a user is required to send a selfie in a certain position or showing a certain gesture. 

Even though it definitely is a step in the right direction and it reduces the possibility of using fake pictures by the users, it still doesn’t solve the problem of identity fraud-related issues. It is still possible for fraudsters or offenders to use fake identity and proceed with their actions almost anonymously. 

How could identity verification make online dating safer?

Without a doubt, the sense of anonymity makes it easier for online scammers and people involved in criminal activity. It gives a sense of freedom to commit acts that are harmful, deceitful and fraudulent. Such feeling of anonymity could be quickly and quite easily reduced if users of dating platforms and apps would have to go through an identity verification process. It would mean that every step taken in relation to their online dating activity would also be linked to their real identity. 

Moreover, age verification of users could be crucial in decreasing the number of crimes committed against underage people. At the moment, setting a fake date of birth or age is not difficult, which creates the opportunity for users to lie about their age. It applied to both those who want to appear to be older, and those who prey on young people.

At this time, setting one’s age that appears on a public profile on any social media or online dating platform is simple and is not regulated or verified in any way. This means that the age displayed on a user’s profile does not have to match the reality.

It creates a possibility for young people to create accounts on dating sites that have certain age requirements that they do not meet. This way, it also increases the chances of them becoming exposed to potentially dangerous situations, scams, and people.  

Identity verification is an essential matter that would ensure dating apps users’ safety. Treating this process as a necessity by online dating platforms’ creators would allow them not only to verify basic information such as one’s name, last name and age. It would also give them the opportunity to ensure users are not exposed to danger coming from interacting with people previously convicted to crimes involving sexual assault, violence or fraud by performing identity verifications and background checks. 

In today’s world of technology and dangers that come with it, due to its nature, the online dating industry is one of those that are required to ensure the highest level of security for their users. Identity verification is one of the most important steps in order to make it happen. That’s why it is important to ensure that the verification process is as throughout and professional as possible. 

Fully-Verified offers a banking grade video identity verification solution. In comparison to other identification methods, such as verification based on pictures of a user or identity documents, it gives the opportunity to verify each customer more thoroughly. Video verification combines the power of AI technologies and machine learning (such as automatic validation of documents, face recognition technology) with a human factor (assessment of user’s behavior, validation of security features of a document, and so on). 

Image source: Freepik.com (1, 2)

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