FBI warns scammers are using ‘free’ verification services to dupe dating app users — how to stay safe

A person using a dating app on their smarpthone
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If you thought getting catfished when looking for love using the best dating apps was bad enough, now the FBI is warning that scammers are using a new tactic to prey on unsuspecting singles online.

As reported by BleepingComputer, the government agency has put out a new public service announcement in which it warns that ‘free’ online verification services are the latest way in which scammers and fraudsters are targeting dating app users.

In the past, scammers have relied on romance scams to swindle people on dating apps out of their hard-earned cash. Now though, as people have grown wise to these schemes, scammers are switching things up by using a monthly subscription model instead.

Here’s everything you need to know about this latest dating scam along with how you can avoid falling victim to it yourself.

From pig butchering to a recurring subscription

One of the most popular romance scams is commonly referred to as pig-butchering where scammers boost a victim’s confidence and fatten them up before taking everything they have. However, as this requires a great deal of time and effort, scammers have begun using ‘free’ online verification services to bleed their victims dry financially over time.

In its public service announcement, the FBI explains that scammers employing this tactic first meet their victims on either a dating app or website. From here, they express interest in establishing an actual relationship while trying to convince their victims to move off the dating app or website to an encrypted platform.

In order to convince them that this is a good idea, the scammers explain that using this encrypted platform is a safer means of communicating. They then send them a link to a website which offers a ‘free’ verification process to ensure that neither they nor the victim are sex offenders or serial killers. In fact, the so-called verification websites used in this scam actually contain fake articles on these subjects to make them appear more legitimate.

If the victim hasn’t realized they’re being duped yet, the next step in the verification process should be a dead giveaway. To get verified, a victim will need to provide both personal and financial information including their full name, phone number, email address as well as their credit card number.

Once verification is complete, victims are taken to a poorly crafted dating site and their monthly credit card statement will show a charge to an unknown business instead of to the site itself. At this point though, the scammers have all they need to commit fraud or potentially even identity theft.

How to stay safe when dating online

A woman looking at a smartphone while using a laptop

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Online dating can be fun but as we’ve seen here, it can also be dangerous if you don’t take the necessary precautions and be extra careful online. 

For starters, you should never click on links, download files or open attachments from someone you just met online. The links could take you to malicious websites while the files or attachments could actually contain dangerous malware. 

This is why you should be using the best antivirus software on your PC, the best Mac antivirus software on your Apple computer or the best Android antivirus apps on your Android smartphone. Unfortunately for iPhone users, there’s no iOS equivalent of these Android antivirus apps due to Apple’s own restrictions but Intego’s Mac security software can scan your iPhone for malware when it’s connected to a Mac via USB.

Just like when buying items off of Facebook Marketplace, you want to avoid moving your conversations with anyone from a dating app or website onto a different platform. Dating sites and apps have built-in protections to keep their users safe that many other platforms lack.

At the same time, you also want to keep a level head and not let your emotions get the best of you. Like hackers, scammers will often try to instill a sense or urgency to get you to take action without thinking things through first. Likewise, you also want to avoid oversharing and under no circumstance should you provide someone online with sensitive personal or financial details which could be used against you.

These days most dating apps or websites are free but if you do have to pay, you’ll be able to find plenty of information online about any subscription plans or services they offer. Anyone on a dating app or site sending you a link to another service is a major red flag and clicking on that link is something you should avoid at all costs.

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Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.