Almost half of the people who use dating sites and apps have been scammed or spammed, suggests research.
Carried out by security firm Symantec, the study quizzed more than 3,000 people across Europe about what happened when they searched for love.
Daters fell victim to blackmail, were subjected to revenge porn and were tricked by people who assumed fake identities to steal cash.
One expert said scammers pass around lists of people who are susceptible.
While most people found what they were looking for via dating apps and sites, for some it was a more fraught experience that cost them much emotionally and sometimes financially, said Nick Shaw, European head of Symantec’s Norton division.
“When people go online looking for love and affection they may not be as vigilant as they might be elsewhere,” he said. “They look for the good rather than the bad.”
The research showed that 48% of those questioned in the UK, France and Germany for the survey had received spam and scam messages from others on dating services.
Around 32% had received requests for cash from the people they got talking to and 28% had been catfished – ie tricked by someone who had assumed a fake identity by stealing images or videos.
About 32% had been threatened with the release of compromising images they had shared and 11% had seen this content put online without their consent.
Mr Shaw said many dating scams were run by gangs who used software ‘bots’ to draw in victims who were then passed to others who started the process of getting to know them, with a view to stealing information or cash.
“There is a lot of money swilling around in the online dating world and criminals will always go where there is money,” he said.
Professor Monica Whitty from the University of Leicester, who has studied online daters who have been scammed, said con artists worked hard to quickly build up trust with victims. Often, she said, they would attempt to move the communication off a dating site to foster closer links.
“It’s a real grooming process,” she said. “It can be very effective and can mean the little bits of evidence that suggest this is not real people will tend to be pushed aside.”
Often, said Prof Whitty, people who are conned get put on a “suckers list” that is passed around or sold online so other gangs can go after the same person.
Tony Neate, chief executive of the Get Safe Online campaign, said the dangers of online dating should not be overblown.
“The actual number of people being conned is relatively small,” he said, “but you have to be aware of it. Often the big thing is not the loss of money, it’s the loss of personal worth and the effect on their family.”
Tips for staying safe
- Know who you are talking to – use video chat or a face-to-face meeting to verify an identity
- Look for “canned” responses in conversations
- Be wary of clicking on links from new contacts
- Set up a separate email address for a dating app or site
- Use a reputable site
- Treat requests for financial aid with scepticism