Dating in 2020 is a roller coaster, from endless swiping to video chat dates, the worry that your quarantine-boo might be fake is all too real.
“I’ve been on Tinder on-and-off for the past three years, but have been back on since March when the pandemic started. I have been seeing more bots than usual,” said Carlos Zavala, 25, of his dating experience.
Online dating in the U.S. has become the most popular way couples connect, a Stanford study published in 2019 found. That finding is being put to the test with the outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S. since mid-March.
“I’m noticing this pandemic what seems to be a lot more ‘users’ that seem to be fake.” says Frankie Hart, who is using the Tinder app in Tokyo. “The ones I have engaged have certain photos that blokes wouldn’t say no to. But seem obviously staged to grab attention.”
Dating-app bots, like all chat bots, are coded software to simulate a “chat” with users utilizing natural language processing. Often times, they are used to spam or scam users, given how advanced some these bots can be in mimicking human conversational patterns. Nevertheless, Ruby Gonzalez, head of communications at NordVPN, a VPN service provider, says they follow certain patterns that when identified can help people avoid them.
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“Despite being one of the smoothest and easiest-to-use dating apps, Tinder is full of fake accounts and bots that can ruin the whole user experience,” warns Gonzalez.
Dating-app bots can not just fool people into opening their hearts, some can even fool people into opening their wallets. In 2019, the FBI received more than 467,000 cybercrime complaints that caused more than $3.5 billion in losses, according to the Bureau’s annual 2019 Internet Crime Report. Approximately 19,473 of those were victims of confidence or romance scams.
Their photos look “too” perfect. “To get you to swipe right, scammers use professional profile pictures, usually stolen either from other users or random models from Google search,” explains Gonzalez.
If users feel something is off about a profile’s photos, they can perform a quick reverse image search on Google Images. Go to the Google images website, click on the camera icon, upload a photo or a screenshot (if on your phone) and they can see where else on the web that photo has been used.
Their bio section looks fishy – no, not the actual men holding fish in the pictures. User might want to take a closer look at profiles with lots of grammar mistakes, inspirational quotes, invitations to click on links or empty bios.
Zavala, who lives in Washington, D.C., notes that the bots have gotten better over time. “In the past, what has tipped me are pictures and a lack of a bio. However, recently some bot profiles are a bit harder to tell due to then including more than one picture or having a somewhat relatable bio,” he says.
The profile responds immediately or looks to move the conversation. If you get your first message instantly after matching with someone or they look to move the conversation to a different application, it might be a bot.
“If there’s a match, it can go one of two ways. No reply at all, or a series of what seems scripted messages. Mostly, leading you to join another platform to chat on. WeChat, Line, these are most common in Asia,” Hart, 40, explains. “The chats I have had seem to have some strange responses. I would ask a question like this: ‘Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you want to look up on the internet? Why?’ It’s never answered properly.”
The situations seem to repeat themselves, regardless of continent, as Connor Lowe of Pittsburgh confirms: “It’s fairly easy to recognize a bot (for the most part). Replies will be super generic, because of course, it’s computer program someone has written.”
Bots cannot maintain naturally flowing conversations, so their responses might be completely unrelated to your questions. “The best thing to do is ask specific questions if you are suspicious,” says Connor, 24.
The profile isn’t linked to other social accounts. Scammers usually don’t bother with establishing an authentically-looking social background for a fake profile.
“I have used Tinder on and off for a few years now. It’s never been successful for me. I guess it’s more like entertainment now, like a slot machine. Like all slot machines, it’s designed to be rigged,” Hart says of his experience. “Now it’s like a challenge of engagement and conversation.”
Dating platforms are listening. While OKCupid could not share much information about bots on its platform, it does direct users to its safety guidelines to warn of possible scams.
For its part, dating app powerhouse Tinder confirms that it has a dedicated fraud team tasked with reviewing every member profile for red flag language, and conducts manual reviews of suspicious profiles, activity and user generated reports.
“Ultimately, no one, whether they met on Tinder or not, should ever send money to someone they haven’t met in person,” Tinder told USA TODAY.
Follow Josh Rivera on Twitter: @Josh1Rivera.