Dating apps: Attract Cupid’s arrow, not a bad romance

For some, finding love is on this year's list of resolutions. Now that February is here and Valentine’s Day approaches, many people are looking for that special someone.

COVID-19 forced many into isolation, seeking connections online. For many queer individuals, the Internet has served as a lifeline and place to connect with other LGBTQ folks long before the pandemic.

According to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), romance scams were up 50% in 2020 thanks to the pandemic. However, many do not consider the adverse consequences of online dating, and they keep running into the same issues. Why? They do not think their personal data is important.

What is the first thing that happens when people meet one another, whether virtually or in the flesh? They share their information! When meeting someone new, you want to share your world. After all, this is how you begin to know someone, but letting your guard down online can have serious consequences.

man in white and gray striped polo shirt holding black smartphone Photo by Malte Helmhold on Unsplash

In cyberland, not everyone is looking for love on dating sites. Oversharing without awareness can lead to severe security and privacy risks. The receiving end may not be who you think they are. They could use your information against you to commit fraud or inflict harm. In a recent case, a Texas man used the dating app Grindr to lure gay men into robbing and assaulting them.

Online, many lie or bend the truth, and sometimes you may not even be speaking with an actual human instead, you may be interacting with a bot that collects personal information and files it into a database to plan a future data breach. Erring on the side of caution and protecting your personal information is paramount.

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you explore the world of online dating:

1. Only use trusted cupid applications

Choose reputable dating sites by performing research first. Many malicious sites and apps are out there, and some are even available in the app store. It should be no surprise that many who download from a “trusted” source get duped. It is up to you to perform your due diligence before selecting a service.

2. Reading fine print does not kill ‘the mood’

We have all heard campaigns of using protection and arguments from some that it kills the moment. When it comes to reading a site's privacy policies and terms and conditions before engaging with potential mates, no one can argue that preparation can kill the mood! To navigate the complex text successfully, look for how your data is protected, processed, stored, and shared with third parties.

man in brown coat standing beside red wall Photo by Marc Kleen on Unsplash

3. Be sure your profile attracts love, not fate

Create a profile with your safety in mind that markets yourself authentically. The goal is to attract a suitable mate by relaying interests, hobbies, and preferences. Be cautious providing too much personal information that may harm you. Leave off supplying your full name, address, phone number, place of employment, and other identifiable information. Stick to posting photos of yourself, not those that reveal your home’s background, private details, your location, or any proprietary information exposed on a computer screen or documents resting on a nearby table. Be respectful of your human relationships and do not post photos that contain members of your family or friends, especially without their consent.

4. Indulge in something satisfying, not a scheme

Fraud is the oldest trick in the book, and the nature of the Internet makes it that much easier to conduct. Avoid solicitations targeted with deceptive messages that lure you into performing a task. It may come as a request for a gift card, money, or Uber rides. Be mindful of malicious emails and text messages that include suspicious links, or QR codes designed with deceptive marketing tactics that get you to click on a fraudulent URL.

5. Verify your crush on video, then meet in a public space

Many dating sites have video features now, so confirm whom you’re speaking with by using the video feature. Be wary of anyone not wanting to do so. I get it; some of you may not be comfortable on video; however, what is the difference if you’re meeting someone in person? It is better to be safe than sorry and to eliminate potential catfish. When meeting for the first time, agree to meet somewhere in public and furnish your ride to get there safely. It is not a good idea to invite strangers into your home or get into a car with someone you do not know or trust.

woman in white-and-black striped tops looking each other Photo by Trung Thanh on Unsplash

6. Stay loved through increased awareness and security practices

Love and respect yourself by establishing your safety and security boundaries. Implementing good security practices such as: storing strong passwords in a password manager, using multi-factor authentication, adjusting the security and privacy settings on all of your social media sites and dating applications, and having good security software on your PC and mobile devices. These protective measures will go a long way in helping to prevent many of the adverse incidents that occur online.

7. Let someone you trust know they are the ‘third-wheel’ from afar

No, I am not suggesting bringing anyone as a third wheel when you meet your date, though some certainly do, and that’s perfectly fine. However, it is good to let someone you know and trust your whereabouts. You can share your phone location for a limited period or have frequent check-ins with your friend or family member before, during, and after your date once you believe you are safe. For many LGBTQ who are not out, having even one trusted friend with whom you can share your sexual identity is necessary.

8. Allow a cupid to strike you with their arrow, and not from a fraudster

Enjoy your time meeting other people and developing something that could be long-lasting or last one night. By increasing your awareness of the risks to your physical and digital safety, you’ll be able to protect yourself against the dangers that lurk online.

If you do not feel comfortable with someone you’re speaking with, block them. Someone's behavior may cause red flags, and you may even wish to report that individual if they’ve violated you or the terms and conditions of the site.

If someone is trying to inflict harm on you, threatens you, or incessantly harasses you online, you should contact the local authorities and report the incident. They may encourage you to file a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Division (IC3), depending on the severity of the situation and whether the incident happened online or at your local address. If you are uncomfortable addressing the incident with the authorities or need assistance navigating law enforcement, consult with a cybersecurity expert who understands and supports the LGBTQ community to assist with that process and help keep you safe.

Wishing you love and harmony, meeting your new loves online safely.


About the Author

Tom Kowalski is the founder and CEO of REP, a cybersecurity risk and reputation advisory firm. Tom’s differentiated background in cybersecurity, crisis communications, and reputational risk allows him to effectively manage clients' digital risks and mitigate online threats that affect their assets, reputation, and well-being.

Several years before founding REP, Tom was the target of online harassment. The lack of laws governing social media and tech companies, combined with difficulty finding justice, led him to create his company.

Today, Tom eases the burden of worry for other LGBTQ victims and helps individuals achieve safety and peace of mind. He also helps organizations manage their cybersecurity risks, specializing in cybersecurity policies. Part of Tom’s work involves analyzing corporate security procedures, focusing on how their current strategies affect all individuals. Tom designs and improves policies that better govern an organization's security program and lower the risk of adverse incidents.

REP is a certified business of NGLCC (National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce) where Tom is an active member of the New York City chapter. Tom is also an active member of cyber security and risk organizations ISACA and the FAIR Institute.

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