Staying Cyber Safe on Dating Apps: Protecting Against Phishing

Between 2017 and 2019, Simon Leviev, also known as “The Tinder Swindler”, lured women in with luxury before conning them out of a combined $10 million to fund his lifestyle. He had engineered schemes before, but this was the most elaborate. In his home country of Israel, he was only charged with 15 months in prison, and due to the coronavirus pandemic, served five. As of the writing of this article, he hasn’t compensated any of his victims. You can check out the whole story on Netflix.

But how was Leviev able to get away with so much before the women he swindled began to question things? Why do so many people fall for romance scams and lose fortunes? How can you participate in online dating safely?

How not to get scammed on dating apps

Most romance cyber scams fall under two categories: social engineering and phishing.

Social engineering

According to Google, social engineering is the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes.

A more recent example of this is known as “Pig butchering.” Despite its rather violent name, no animals are harmed in pig butchering scams. Rather, the name comes from the process of pig butchering: the victim is lured in, “fattened up” with flattery, trust, and credibility, before the fraudster “butchers” their wallets. A growing trend, the scammer will often try and convince the victim to invest in cryptocurrency, before making off with the money.


Phishing is defined by Google as the fraudulent practice of sending emails or other messages purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

While fraudulent matches aren’t coming from companies, they could easily be posing as someone they’re not (can we call this “cat-phishing”? Patent pending…).

Phishing was the Tinder Swindler’s primary method, posing as a down-on-his-luck son of a millionaire who had yet to inherit his wealth. Another example could be someone stalking you online and using any of your known vulnerabilities as bait. This is why it’s vital to keep your online profiles (not just your dating ones) private or avoid sharing too much personal information. More on that later.

Are people on dating apps safe?

Generally speaking, the majority of people on dating apps are there for the same reason you are: to find a connection. However, knowing how to spot the cyber criminals or otherwise dangerous people can help you avoid getting hurt.

To do that, let’s go over the scammer’s game in a little more detail and take the example of a Calgary woman who lost nearly $500K:


Once the scammer has made contact, they’ll quickly begin building trust and become your perfect match, pretending to share interests, soothing your insecurities, etc. Many romance scammers will offer to do you a favour before they pull you in. They may claim to be a successful cryptocurrency investor who’ll teach you how it’s done.

In a vulnerable spot after experiencing great loss, Shelley Smith (not her real name) met a man on the dating app, Zoosk. Using a fake name, photos, and grandiose, flattering language, he earned her trust.


After getting to know you, the fraudster may suddenly be online less often, only messaging you when they need something and using a phony excuse as to why they can’t stay in better contact.

The most popular excuses, according to the FTC, are that they are: - Working on an oil rig - In the military - Working as a doctor with an international organization

Shelley’s mystery man “Pettersson” (also a fake name) was never able to meet as his architecture job had him leave the country to build a luxury hotel in Turkey. He even sent her fake 3D models of the hotel.

Building sympathy

Often, the scammer will make out like they’re in a tough situation. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the most common lie is that they, or someone close to them, is sick or in prison, and they need financial help until they can repay the debt (hint: they never will).

Like clockwork, Pettersson claimed that his laptop broke down upon arrival, and he needed her to wire money to various contractors so he wouldn’t lose his job.

Social proof

The scammer will provide pictures, sometimes real, sometimes photoshopped, in order to convince you the scam is real (i.e. editing a bank statement to make it look like they are rich).

When Shelley logged into his “account”, she saw it held $1 million, leading her to believe he was rich. Then, his account “froze”.


A scammer will often assert that the information needs to be sent right away or something bad will happen. As an example, they’ll claim that they’ll lose their home to creditors if they don’t receive the payment in the next 24 hours or that they’ve lost access to their account.

Of course, Pettersson needed the money as soon as possible to pay off his debts. When she would question the relationship, she was met with questions like “Don’t you trust me?” guilting her into continuing to send money.

Shelley racked up debt, taking out a home equity line of credit, borrowing money, and emptying her RRSP to a romance scam to a man who was revealed to be a fake after a reverse image search confirmed the photos belonged to a man in Denver.

Thankfully, Shelley has been able to repay most of her debts, but at 60 years old, is rebuilding her retirement savings.

And Shelley isn’t the only victim. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received 1,249 complaints of online romance scams from 925 Canadian victims with a loss of more than $50 million in 2021. After investment scams, romance scams account for the most dollars lost. Plus, reported instances of romance fraud are likely lower as many victims feel ashamed or fear rejection from loved ones.

How do I know if the person I am talking to online is real?

The number one rule for safe dating practices:


You are a lot better off blocking or reporting the person than taking a chance on love with a scammer (tip: it won’t end with love).

The number two rule:


The FTC has the following points for identifying fake dating profiles: - Referring to Rule #2, no one legitimate will ask you for financial help or pressure you to invest. - Someone asking you to receive or send a package is a fraud. - Turn to more knowledgeable friends and family to see if they have any concerns about the person you’re chatting with. - Reverse image search their profile pictures. Often, as in Shelley’s case, scammers will steal others’s photos to seem legitimate.

Online dating privacy tips

A general rule of thumb when protecting personal information online is to keep it as vague as possible. You can list the city you live in, but don’t share specifics. You can mention your field of work, but keep your actual position and company under wraps.

A little bit of light social media stalking is permissible. Seeing if they’re online profiles (including LinkedIn) match what they’ve told you can save you from scams. You also don’t need to exchange numbers or take the conversation off the app straight away. If someone pressures you into doing this, it could be a sign they’re out to do harm. Someone genuine will respect your wishes and recognize them as reasonable.

Hopefully, you’ve picked up on this, but NEVER share your address, credit card number, or social security number with a match. Nobody but you (and maybe your parents) needs to know that information.

Should you use your real name on dating apps?

This is ultimately your call. If using a fake name makes you feel safer, then go for it. You could also use a nickname, a shortened form of your name, or just your first name. Keep in mind that using a fake name may erode trust with a potential genuine match, but your safety is your number one priority.

What is the safest dating site?

There are currently no awards for the safest dating sites. Many dating apps have some safety barriers in place, (like asking users to confirm they don’t have a criminal record or any sexual assault allegations). However, Hinge, Tinder, and Bumble have expressed in the fine print that users are ultimately responsible for their interactions and staying safe.

What apps are doing to keep you safe


Tinder offers an incognito mode that allows your profile to be seen only by those you’ve swiped right on. However, it is only available with a paid subscription.


Happn is an app that seeks to reunite missed connections, by showing people you may have passed in your daily life. On Happn, you can prevent certain users from connecting or crossing paths with you. You can also make yourself invisible on the platform without a paid subscription.

Plenty of Fish

Has a “Share My Date” feature with which you can share your date location with loved ones.

Could dating apps do more?

Of all the top dating apps, Bumble’s security measures are by far the most extensive. They encourage users to report the match if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable after meeting, or if they see someone on the app they know is dangerous.

Most apps also allow photo verification to quickly identify who is real. However, Julie Valentine, a former sexual assault nurse examiner and a professor at the University of Utah, says this process only confirms people’s physical identity, not whether they’re safe to contact.

How to report suspicious activity

If you suspect someone is attempting a phishing scheme or another form of cyber attack, the first step is to cut off communication, block, and report them to the app, so they can be investigated and hopefully banned from the app.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) advises the next step is to call the local police. If you’ve already made money transfers or payments, call your bank to put a stop to them immediately. You can then file a report with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or online through its Fraud Reporting System.

Overall, when it comes to avoiding dating app scams and recognizing online dating fraud, a lot of it comes down to common sense and applying the same situation to real life. If you wouldn’t hand a stranger a wad of cash in the street just because they asked, why would you do it online? If someone you had just met asked you for your banking information or your address, would you share it? If the answer is no, then the same goes for online interactions.

Stay cyber safe and protect your personal information online.