How Can You Be Sure You’re Safe on a Dating App?
The popularity of online dating has exploded in recent years — especially since the pandemic, when the convenience of connecting online made this a popular choice for millions of American daters.
But while online dating apps offer access to countless potential matches, they can also open you up to fraud and scams. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [*]:
Americans lost over $1.3 billion to romance-related scams last year alone — with many victims being targeted over dating apps and sites.
Romance scammers take advantage of the vulnerabilities associated with starting a new relationship. But the fear of getting scammed or tricked shouldn’t stop you from finding love.
In this guide, we’ll break down the risks of online dating, how to quickly identify a romance scammer, the safest dating apps and sites out there, and how to properly use them.
Are Dating Apps Safe? 8 Real Risks To Watch For
- Fake profiles and catfishing
- Romance scammers asking for money or gift cards
- Harassment, stalking, and unwanted messages
- “Oil rig” and other foreign worker scams
- Fake dating and hook-up sites
- Extortion and exploitation of your sensitive photos and videos
- Phishing for personal information
- Pig butchering scams
While there are plenty of positive aspects of finding romantic partners online, the unfortunate truth is that fraud on dating apps has increased by 40% since 2018 [*].
Scammers use the anonymous nature of dating apps and sites to create fake profiles, lure in unsuspecting victims, and then extort them for money, gift cards, cryptocurrencies, or sensitive information which can be used for identity theft.
Here are some of the greatest dangers of online dating — and how to protect yourself.
1. Fake profiles and catfishing
Fraudsters use stolen photos and fake information to create attractive dating profiles (known as “catfishing”). After you match, they "love bomb" you by quickly building a relationship and professing their love in order to gain your trust.
McKayla — a single mother from Kentucky — lost $10,000, and even divorced her husband, when fraudsters convinced her that she was in a relationship with Australian actor Dacre Montgomery (known for his role as Billy Hargrove in Stranger Things). The two never even met or spoke over the phone [*].
🛑 Key Takeaway: Trust your gut. If a profile looks “too perfect,” do a reverse image search of the profile photo on Google. If the image appears on someone else’s social media profile or on a magazine’s website, the profile is a catfishing scam.
2. Romance scammers asking for money or gift cards
The end goal of almost all online dating scams is to steal a victim’s money. After building a relationship, scammers invent emergencies or say they want to come visit you — but first you need to send them gift cards, money transfers, or cryptocurrency.
🛑 Key Takeaway: Never send money to someone you’ve just met. No matter how convincing their story is, be wary of overly emotional or rushed relationships. If someone asks for money (and especially if they mention gift cards), block and report them immediately.
3. Harassment, stalking, and unwanted messages
Scammers and stalkers can use online dating services to target victims by creating fake profiles to regain contact after being blocked, or by using the information of their victims’ profiles to find them in real life.
In one example, an 18-year-old woman unmatched with a man on Tinder, who then proceeded to harass her on social media, contact her friends, and even repeatedly showed up at her workplace until security staff intervened [*].
🛑 Key Takeaway: Reduce the risk of cyberstalking. Avoid posting location-specific information, such as photos that depict street signs or the name of your workplace.
4. “Oil rig” and other foreign worker scams
In these types of dating scams, fraudsters pretend they work on oil rigs, are doctors in foreign countries, or serve in the military — all to get out of having to video chat or show up on a first date.
The foreign worker angle is also a regular setup for money requests. For example, one woman lost her life savings after meeting a man online who claimed to be working on a pipeline project in Saudi Arabia. Over time, the scammer convinced the woman that he was having banking issues, and persuaded her to send thousands of dollars to “help” [*].
🛑 Key Takeaway: Take it slow. Don’t divulge contact information or details about your life to someone until you can safely meet in person. Be especially cautious if someone claims to be working overseas.
5. Fake dating and hookup sites
Many dating app scams focus on casual relationships and hookups. For example, fraudsters create fake profiles on apps, send sexually explicit content to users, and then ask them to sign up for a “hookup” site. But these sites are filled with ads, may contain malware, or can even steal your credit card information when you sign up.
Some gangs even employ operators on fake dating sites to interact with users and lure them into scams [*].
🛑 Key Takeaway: Do your research. Before signing up for any lesser-known website, search the dating platform’s name with keywords like "reviews" and "scams." Look for negative reports and feedback from past users who suspect the site's authenticity.
6. Extortion and exploitation of your sensitive photos and videos
This growing threat arises when users share intimate or compromising content with someone they meet online — who then uses it to blackmail or extort them. Recent reports show that this type of “sextortion” has increased more than eightfold since 2019, with people between the ages of 18 and 29 most likely to become victims [*].
Even worse, with the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), cybercriminals are using sophisticated voice cloning and video manipulation software to exploit victims with fake intimate photos and videos.
🛑 Key Takeaway: Always try to follow the “grandparent rule.” Recognize that anything you say or send online can be made public (and seen by a grandparent). If you wouldn’t want others to see what you’re sending to a prospective dating match, don’t share it online.
7. Phishing for personal information
Phishing is rife in the dating world. Scammers pose as romantic interests in text messages and emails to manipulate you into sharing sensitive contact information such as your address, names of relatives, and where you work.
Some of these questions might feel normal for a dating app. Still, fraudsters quickly delve deeper, asking for sensitive details, like your Social Security number (SSN), bank account information, or email password (to “prove” you’re not engaging in other relationships).
🛑 Key Takeaway: Be skeptical about unusual questions. If you suspect a potential romantic partner of overstepping a boundary, take this as a sign to step back and question their motives. Giving up sensitive information can place you at risk of account takeovers, financial losses, and identity theft.
8. Pig butchering scams
The “pig butchering” scam is a common type of fraud in which cybercriminals convince victims to invest in special cryptocurrency exchanges that offer “guaranteed” returns — and then steal their money. This is especially common on dating sites and apps, where scammers build relationships and then talk about how much money they’ve made from investing.
🛑 Key Takeaway: Don’t invest money based on what someone online tells you. There’s no such thing as a “guaranteed” investment. If someone on a dating site offers to “help you” invest, they’re most likely trying to scam you.
How To Identify a Scammer on a Dating App
Romance scammers on dating apps always look for new ways to trick victims. However, there are common warning signs you can look out for:
- They quickly tell you they love you (i.e., “love bombing”). Romance scammers want to build an immediate emotional connection, so they often profess their love and use psychological manipulation to break down your defenses.
- Their lives are full of drama — and only you can help. Scammers want to keep you engaged and sympathetic, so they constantly invent new dramatic situations that require your help, such as medical emergencies or legal troubles.
- They ask for gift cards or specific payment types. All scammers want to receive money via payment methods that are difficult to trace or refund. Fraudsters may ask you to wire money through a company like Western Union or MoneyGram, buy and send gift cards (such as Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and Steam), or send money through an app like Zelle or Cash App.
- Their profiles are “too perfect.” Scammers use attractive profile pictures and selfies to lure you in. If a love interest seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- They suggest you invest in cryptocurrencies. While scammers often ask for funds directly, a new and trending online romance scam encourages you to invest in sham cryptocurrency apps or websites.
- They want to move your conversations off the dating app. Often, scammers want to move from the dating app to a more private form of communication. This suggestion may not seem like a red flag at first; but it's a way for scammers to get your phone number and potentially access your personal information.
- They tell inconsistent or unbelievable stories about themselves. The new person in your life may claim to have a glamorous profession, or boast about excessive wealth. Some con artists — like the “Tinder Swindler” — even rent flashy cars and airplanes as part of their elaborate scams.
- They push you to provide sensitive photos and videos. Romance scammers often use flattery, affection, or emotional manipulation to gain trust. Through these social engineering tactics, fraudsters can persuade you to drop your guard and do things you wouldn't normally do — like send explicit photos or videos.
- They can’t meet you in a public place. Fraudsters may say they live outside the country, work on an oil rig, serve in the military, or travel often due to work.
- They refuse to video chat. Scammers avoid video chats or in-person meetings, feigning excuses like poor internet signals or lack of funds.
The bottom line: There’s no guarantee that someone you’re talking to online (or even over the phone or in a video chat) is who they say they are. As such, it’s always a good idea to meet someone offline in a safe, public space before exchanging too much information or getting involved in a new relationship.
What Is the Safest Dating App To Use?
There are many dating apps, and new ones appear all the time. This makes it hard to know which online dating sites are legitimate.
Here are some of the most popular (and safer) dating apps:
Is Tinder safe to use?
Tinder is the most popular dating app in the United States [*] and has introduced new safety features (such as Incognito, Block Profile, Long Press Reporting, and enhancements to “Does This Bother You?” and “Are You Sure?”) to offer its 18-25-year-old user base more control over interactions [*].
However, these features have limitations, as the platform can't prevent all instances of inappropriate or scam behavior.
Is Bumble safe to use?
As the first platform to give women power to make the first move, Bumble prioritizes user safety. Its range of features and processes includes photo moderation, profile text checks, photo verification, and proactive measures to remove fake profiles, scammers, and bots.
The “Block & Report” tool allows users to report concerning behavior, ensuring a safer and more respectful community [*]. However, limitations still exist — such as a limited number of matches and no search function.
💡 Related: How To Spot a Bumble Scammer (6 Bumble Scams) →
Is OkCupid safe to use?
Safety features on OkCupid include the ability to report and block users, and extensive profile moderation to filter inappropriate content and fake profiles. You also have an option to make your profile invisible to other users, if needed.
OkCupid states that it does not tolerate fake profiles; and those who create them are subject to a permanent ban. However, the app does not require stringent user verification or background checks — so some profiles don’t accurately represent the person behind them.
Is Hinge safe to use?
Hinge calls itself the dating app "designed to be deleted," meaning if the company delivers on its promise, you won't need to use the app for long.
Hinge offers safety features — including the ability to report users, enhanced verification processes, and extensive guidelines to promote secure dating app safety. But this doesn't stop Hinge from facing numerous scams.
💡 Related: The 5 Latest Hinges Scams (How To Avoid Them) →
Is Coffee Meets Bagel safe to use?
This app offers safety features such as email verification and a report function to flag inappropriate or suspicious profiles.
Additionally, the app encourages users to focus on meaningful connections rather than swiping through endless profiles — promoting a more deliberate and considered approach to dating. However, some reviews report fraudulent activity, poor in-app security, and fewer high-quality matches than other online dating apps [*].
How To Stay Safe While Dating Online
Despite the risks, online dating isn't going away — nor should it, as it's a great way to meet potential partners and form deep relationships. Yet, it's important to appreciate the risks associated with all dating apps (as well as dating via social media platforms).
For the best dating experience, and to protect yourself from fraud and scams, follow these steps:
- Don’t give out too much personal information right away. Online dating is a balancing act between getting to know someone and maintaining your personal safety without putting your identity at risk. Early on, try not to give out your full name, phone number, home address, date of birth, and social media account details.
- Resist sharing sensitive photos and videos. People may share sensitive photos and videos on dating apps to demonstrate trust and intimacy. However, scammers often use sensitive photos and videos for blackmail, extortion, or to perpetrate identity theft.
- Use a unique profile photo for each dating app. When you use the same photos across various apps, it's easier for someone to perform a reverse image search and discover your personal information.
- Restrict the app’s location permissions. Most dating apps want to show you potential matches nearby, and won’t let you turn off location sharing completely. However, you can still change the settings to Only Essential Location Access. You should also check what apps have location permissions on your iOS (iPhone) or Android device.
- Don’t link other online accounts. Don’t connect your other social networking profiles (such as your TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook accounts) to your dating profiles, as this can make it easier for hackers and stalkers to find you online.
- Keep conversations on the app until you’re ready to meet. Build genuine trust before you move to another platform (like WhatsApp); or ideally, wait until you meet offline in a public space. This approach minimizes your risk of potential scams, harassment, or unwanted contact from matches.
- Research profiles before engaging. Look for consistency in information, check for common social media accounts, do reverse image searches of photos, and even consider requesting a video call to confirm the person's identity.
- Block and report scammers. Blocking and reporting scammers is crucial to protecting yourself and others on dating apps. Doing so not only prevents further contact with scammers but also helps app administrators identify and remove fraudulent profiles.
- Consider an identity theft protection and digital security provider. Aura’s all-in-one solution monitors and protects your most sensitive personal information, finances, and online accounts. Plus, you get 24/7 access to a dedicated team of Fraud Resolution Specialists and up to $1 million in identity theft insurance coverage.
Meeting Up With Someone In Person? Follow These Safety Tips
Just because you think you know someone online doesn't mean you know who they are in real life.
Here’s how to stay safe when meeting someone in person for the first time:
- Video chat before meeting up. Video chats allow you to confirm that people match their profile photos and descriptions, and can help prevent catfishing.
- Meet in a safe and public space. Don't meet at someone's home or in a place where you'll be alone. Meeting in a popular park, public restaurant, or coffee shop ensures that other people are around who can assist you, if needed. It’s also a good practice to meet during the daytime (or when the meeting place is busy).
- Tell a close friend where you’re going and whom you’re meeting. Share the details of your date with a person you trust so that someone knows where you are and when to expect you back.
- Set a “check-in” time with someone you trust. Keep your friend posted if you go somewhere or decide to stay out later than expected. By giving them details, your friend can check in with you throughout the date.
- Use your own transportation, and know how you’re getting home. Having your own vehicle allows you to leave if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Avoid accepting rides from your date on the first meeting.
- Don’t feel bad about leaving early. It’s okay to cut a date short. You don’t owe the other person anything, no matter how long you’ve been chatting. If you’re unsure about your safety, have the manager of the restaurant or bar walk you to your car.
- Never leave your food or beverages unattended. Powerful, new drugs exist that can leave you vulnerable and at the mercy of a predator. If you begin to feel ill or disoriented while on a new date, call a friend immediately.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable during the date, don't hesitate to leave or seek help. Your gut feeling is often your best guide. If something doesn't seem right, prioritize your safety and leave the situation.
The Bottom Live: Don’t Get Scammed While Looking for Love
best ideWhile it’s entirely possible to find that perfect person on a dating app or website, there are countless cybercriminals looking to exploit vulnerable daters.
So, are dating apps safe? They can be — but only if you take proper precautions to protect your identity, finances, and devices against fraudsters and scammers.
With Aura, you get advanced protection against the worst online threats, including identity theft, fraud, account takeovers, hacking, and more.