Long gone are the days when hopeful singles would go out to a bar in the hope of randomly stumbling across the love of their life.
Whether you are straight, gay, bisexual, transvestite, transgendered or unwilling to be pigeon-holed, the modern world offers dating services, websites and apps that promise everything from true love to the chance of a casual hook-up.
But these convenient, flexible opportunities to make connections also bring risks, both old and new.
One of the most widely reported risks is romance fraud, where the object of your affections strings you along with one “emergency” after another resulting in you sending increasing amounts of money to the fraudster.
Robbery at Knifepoint
Sometimes people agree to meet a stranger in a secluded outdoor location such as a common or local woods. This may be because they live with a partner or parents and cannot take anyone back to their place. Or perhaps they just like the thrill of an outdoor encounter.
Recently for some gay men in London the only “thrill” was being robbed at knifepoint by a gang of four.
When meeting for the first time it is always best to choose somewhere neutral and well populated, such as a bar or a café.
Broadband, in combination with cameras built into laptops and phones, provides an opportunity unknown to previous generations: you can now have “cyber” with someone on the other side of the world.
But do you actually know who you’re talking to? A man in Leeds found out the hard way when he stripped off in front of the camera only to be blackmailed under threat of the video being released on YouTube.
In other variations of this include being played a very convincing video of “the other party” stripping off to encourage you to do the same, and the scammer accessing your Skype contacts and threatening to send the video to your friends and family if you do not pay up.
Inviting a Complete Stranger to Your Home
We have all got used to the convenience of ordering goods and services online, to be delivered to our home at a time of our choosing.
Anyone who has been on a hook-up site late at night will have had the odd unsolicited message from a stranger. Often their profile does not even have a photo so you can even see who you’re chatting to – and any photos that do exist may not belong to them.
They want you to come straight over for sex, often some miles away. The first thing that bothers me about this is the attitude of assuming the person they have approached is interested. But worse is the idea it’s acceptable to “order” another human being for immediate delivery to their door, as if they were ordering a pizza.
The vast majority of these invites are probably from people genuinely interested in a sexual encounter, possibly fuelled by a few pints in the pub. But you never know what you’re letting yourself in for … or they could just be asleep in a drunken/drugged stupor by the time you get there.
The risk is greater if you’re inviting a stranger to your home. If you’re lucky, the person who turns up will be exactly what you were expecting. On the other hand the photo you saw could be from 20 years ago before they put on 6 stone and started moulting.
Much more serious is if a criminal gang turns up, intent on ransacking your home and raiding your bank account.
Harvesting Personal Data For Fraud
Recently I was approached online by a handsome man from Russia. I was immediately suspicious that his intention was not bona fide – particularly given the distance – but I’m always happy to say hello to someone and give them the benefit of the doubt – just general chit-chat without giving away any personal data.
After a few nice messages back and forth, he explained that he was rarely on the dating site and it would be easier if I gave him my email address. This was clearly untrue as he was obviously on the site at least once a day. So I replied with general chat about my day but did not provide my email address.
A few hours later I got a much more tersely worded response asking if I was a fool: he had already explained he was rarely on the site and I would need to give him my email address. This confirmed my suspicions, so I blocked the profile and reported him to the site administrators.
Had a given out my email address, there is a good chance it would have been used to send me phishing attempts or links to ransomware.
Similarly, giving out a mobile phone number could lead to your next monthly bill being much higher than expected.
- If someone is genuinely interested in you, they will be happy to meet you somewhere neutral the next day or later in the week rather than expecting you to drive to them immediately late at night.
- Someone who cares about you will not pressure you for sex.
- The moment someone you’ve never met asks you for money, run for the hills … or at least block their profile.
- It is never wise to give out too much personal information: your email address, mobile phone number, where you live, when your birthday is, plans for future travel that may indicate when your property is empty.
- Trust your instincts: if something does not add up or feel right about the other person, it is better to be safe than sorry.