FutureFive NZ - How to protect your privacy when you're dating online

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How to protect your privacy when you're dating online

The increasing popularity of online dating services in New Zealand has caught the attention of scammers, says Symantec.

Symantec, the software security specialist, says while there are a ‘plethora of legitimate daters’ users could fall victim to stalking, harassment, catfishing, identity theft, webcam blackmail and phishing scams.

In order to help mitigate these risks, it is important to take precautionary measures and be careful with what information you provide, says Symantec.

When choosing an online dating site, choose one that is reputable and well-known and consider joining a paid site, says Symantec.

When members have to pay there will be more legitimate daters and less scammers, according to Symantec. Some of the paid sites also conduct criminal background screenings.

Research the sites you’re interested in and check if the site will allow you to delete or disable your account as the site will retain your information otherwise, says Symantec.

It is also important to check the sites’ privacy policy and verify how data with these accounts are handled. Even popular dating sites can mishandle and manipulate a member’s data, says Symantec.

Some dating sites make profiles public by default, which means that they can be indexed by search engines, says the company.

When creating a profile, Symantec says it’s best to create a username and use photos that have not been used on any other accounts.

Set up a free email account to for your dating account and use this if you want to communicate with a match away from the site, says Symantec.

In order to protect your phone number and call someone from the dating site, set up a free Google Voice account as this will generate a separate phone number and forward it to your mobile, the company says.

As well as being careful on the site, users should educate themselves on online dating scams, says Symantec.

An individual may contact you with a 'sob story', for instance about being stranded in a foreign country or a sudden family emergency. If they ask you for money, you should report them to the service you are using and then block them, says Symantec.

If someone doesn’t want to send you a recent photo or meet up in person, these are red flags, according to Symantec.

Don’t visit links sent to you by people you haven’t talked to for very long, the company says.

Scammers will pose as a member and try to get their target to click on links, usually leading to porn or webcam sites, and sometimes can even lead to malicious sites that download malware onto your computer, says Symantec.

If someone requests a webcam chat, be especially careful about your behavior as the criminal can record the webcam session and can use it to blackmail you. If the conversation you’re having starts to take an uncomfortable turn, disconnect the chat, Symantec says.

Scammers create fake profiles that are run by programs called bots. Their objective is to get you to click on a link that will lead to either porn, malware or scam you out of credit card information.

It’s easy to spot a bot as they have a set of predetermined ‘canned’ responses, says Symantec. If you notice that the conversation is uncomfortable or the person isn’t answering your questions directly, chances are it’s a bot.

Catfishing is when a user assumes the identity of someone else and is an entirely different kind of scam, says Symantec.

This tactic is used by online predators to try to trick people into an online romantic relationship. Catfishers will often make up excuses as to why they can’t meet you, talk on the phone or meet up on webcam, the company says.

Do a reverse online image search of their photos and if they appear in other places, under other names, this is probably a catfish, says Symantec.

“We are now in the age of the internet where we can order up anything from toothpaste to significant others online.

“As with all areas of the cyber landscape there are scammers and hackers abound, but if you keep your wits about you and follow the advice in this article, you can safely add love to your shopping cart,” Symantec says.

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