Interpol warns of romance scam artists using dating apps to promote fake investments

Matches lead victims not to love, but to fake money-making apps, instead.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Interpol has warned of a new investment scam targeting users of mobile dating apps.

As COVID-19 continues to severely restrict our daily lives and in many places, makes social interaction and meeting new people in person impossible, dating apps have experienced a surge in users. 

As the only possible method of anything akin to dating at the current time, scam artists have decided to capitalize on this trend in order to push an investment-based scam that deprives victims of their cash. According to Arkose Labs research, four million online dating fraud & abuse-related attacks were recorded in 2020, with many taking place through fake account registrations. 

On Tuesday, the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) said the agency had issued a "purple notice" -- the provision of data on criminal groups' methods, objects, devices, and concealment methods -- to 194 member countries. 

The notice describes a new modus operandi on dating applications, which Interpol says "takes advantage of people's vulnerabilities as they look for potential matches, and lures them into a sophisticated fraud scheme."

This is how the scam, documented globally, works: users sign up to a dating app such as Tinder, eHarmony, or Bumble, and unknowingly end up matching with a scammer. 

Once a level of trust has been established, the scam artist will then turn the conversation over to finance and potential investments, encouraging their 'match' to join them in a financial venture. 

To appear genuine, the scammer will give their victim investment "tips" and lure them to download a fake trading app, sign up for financial products, and "work their way up a so-called investment chain" -- all under the supervision of their connection on the dating app. 

In order to encourage the victim to part with their cash, the fraudster will provide incentives, such as promising their victim can reach a premium "Gold" or "VIP" status under their tutelage. 

However, nothing is as it seems. 

"As is often the case with such fraud schemes, everything is made to look legitimate," Interpol says. "Screenshots are provided, domain names are eerily similar to real websites, and customer service agents pretend to help victims choose the right products."

Once the match has been milked for their cash, victims are locked out of their 'investment' accounts and the scam artist vanishes, cutting off all contact. 

"They're left confused, hurt, and worried that they'll never see their money again," Interpol added. 

When feelings become involved, there may be more of a chance for someone to be persuaded to part with their money. This relates to phishing emails -- many examples of which will pretend to be from a tax office, loan company, or bank -- with panic and fear used as triggers. 

Dating app fraudsters prey upon the heart, and we've heard, time and time again, of lonely users being swindled out of their life savings by individuals who appeared to be genuine love interests. 

As many of us are using dating apps as an alternative to meeting in-person during the pandemic, it is even more important that we remain cautious. 

You should never part with any money to someone you don't know and haven't met in person -- no matter what the apparent opportunity is or whatever claimed 'emergency' situation someone is in -- and when it comes to investment opportunities, research first. 

After all, if a financial investment appears to be too good to be true, it usually is. 

Earlier this week, UK police highlighted another form of scam that preys upon lonely hearts -- the exploit of online video chats and remote dates. In a case documented by Thames Valley police, a video session between a man and a woman that turned intimate was recorded by the latter, who pretended to have a romantic interest in her victim in order to extort a blackmail payment in return for the footage not being shared with friends and family. 

Previous and related coverage

Have a tip? Get in touch securely via WhatsApp | Signal at +447713 025 499, or over at Keybase: charlie0

Editorial standards