Facebook's dating app revs up romance scams
Finding a soulmate is already pretty tough, but here's another reason to keep your guard up. Facebook (FB) is launching a dating application later this year, and users are already perceiving a rise in "catfishers" -- crooks pretending to be lovelorn in an attempt to pull off a romance scam.
Michelle Amburgey, a 56-year-old who runs a holistic healing business, said she received six sketchy Facebook "friend requests" over just one recent weekend. Amburgey said she has always perceived some suspected catfishing attempts on the social media network, but never with this kind of volume. Other users say much the same, and experts maintain that's not surprising.
"Crooks use Facebook to target vulnerable and lonely people. It seems to a fair bet that those same criminals will see a new Facebook dating service as a huge opportunity," said Danny Boice, president of Trustify, a private investigation firm.
Amburgey said she wasn't about to take the bait just to confirm that the odd "friend" requests were, indeed, from con artists, but all the warning signs were there.
"They were all older men that looked similar," Amurgey said. Each had some reason to be out of the country, and thus unable to meet in person. "One was military; one was with an oil company; one was in aerospace. None of them had much personal information on their profiles. It was just creepy."
Unfortunately, even in the best circumstances, online dating is beset with fraud -- both innocuous and criminal. Some 54 percent of online daters think someone they've been corresponding with has misrepresented themselves in some way, said Aaron Smith, associate director at the Pew Research Center.
That can be as simple as lying about your age or looks, or attempting to pretend that you're single when you're actually married. However, the most common online dating scam involves catfishers who are looking to con victims out of money.
Over the past three years, Trustify has investigated catfishing cons that cost victims upwards of $5 million. More than 85 percent of these scams started on or involved Facebook, Boice said.
Boice believes that scammers target Facebook because of the site's con-friendly demographics and the vast number of potential victims. A whopping 83 percent of adult women use the site as do 75 percent of adult men, according to SproutSocial. And unlike many other social media sites that mainly appeal to millennials, Facebook's audience skews mature -- an important factor for con artists looking for lonely people with money.
According to a recent Better Business Bureau study of romance scams, roughly half of victims who reported their age were over 50. And victims are twice as likely to be women as men.
How can you spot a catfisher? Continue reading at CBSNews.com for five red flags.
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