Dating apps can lead to cyber attacks, identity theft

8 April 2015

With more people than usual flocking to dating websites looking for that special someone to share their time with. However, some unlucky users will find their efforts rewarded with scams, cyber attacks or identity theft instead.

According to an IBM study published in February, dating apps are not always as secure as they should be. The investigation looked at 41 popular apps for the Android platform and found that about 60 percent had security issues that could compromise the privacy of their users. In a chilling example, 73 percent of the apps saved their users’ current and historical GPS data, which could allow criminals to learn users’ schedules and habits if that data were leaked. Even more alarmingly, some of the apps had a flaw that allowed them to access the phone’s microphone and camera even when users weren’t logged in.

In addition to openly malicious cyber criminals, dating app users also have to worry about fraud from the very people they are trying to connect with. According to RCMP Cpl. Greg Church, criminals use these apps to “groom” victims, building a relationship that eventually culminates in requests for money or identity theft.

“If you chose to date online […] don’t put more than your heart on the line,” Church told the CBC.

To protect yourself from the dangers posed by online dating apps, here are some suggestions to keep in mind:

  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Cyber criminals steal photos from especially attractive people’s profiles and use them to lure in unsuspecting prey. One sign of this tactic is similar, but not exactly matching, profile pictures of beautiful people who look vaguely, but not completely, alike. Another is a typing or speaking style that doesn’t seem to match the person in the pictures — awkward-sounding grammar from someone who claims to be a native English speaker, for example.
  • Keep your apps updated. App developers will often release patches after the initial release to deal with security threats. Make sure you install any updates to apps you use regularly in order to mitigate these threats.
  • Don’t share any personal information. Not only does a lack of anonymity on a dating site present the chance of embarrassment if family or friends are able to find you, it also provides fraudsters with the information they need to track or impersonate you. Make sure your username is completely anonymous — names like “SamFromVancouver” make it easy to figure out who you are based on your other details.
  • Check your phone’s permissions regularly. Check on your phone’s settings every so often to see which apps are able to access which information. If an app is accessing things that it didn’t alert you to, you may want to delete it from your phone entirely.
  • Never mix business and pleasure. If you install a dating app on a work phone or tablet, you run the risk of exposing your company’s sensitive information to hackers as well as your own. Make sure to keep all dating app activity on your own personal devices if you don’t want a lawsuit on your hands.
  • Once you’re attached, delete everything. Why keep your dating profile up if you’re already in a relationship? Once you’re done (at least temporarily) with using the site for its intended purpose, delete your profile and remove the app from your phone. Inactive profiles are bait for hackers and scammers.

If you worry that your information may be compromised due to your dating app use, subscribing to a credit monitoring service may be able to give you some peace of mind.