The popularity of online dating sites has picked up its pace in recent years, especially among singles who are desperately looking for a convenient way to search for love. Ahead of Valentine’s Day, however, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has issued a warning against these online dating sites, urging customers to know how to use online dating apps safely and stay vigilant when interacting with strangers online.

With the advent of mobile dating apps like Tinder and Hinge, many people resort to online dating to find their matches.  They are not only free, they are also perfect for introverts, those who fear rejection, and those who are always busy and on the go. Unfortunately, with this ease of use also comes the risk of being duped, as online dating sites put customers at risk for identity theft, stalking, online harassment, abuse, catfishing, and other scams.

According to Horry Georgetown Technical College cyber security professor Stan Greenawalt, reading the fine print of online dating apps and websites before using them is necessary to know the information they collect and how they share it with strangers.

“A lot of time even though the apps may be free, they’re still using that data they’re collecting and sharing it to a third party,” he explained. “Now they may be using it to help for advertisement, but they can make a lot of money by taking the data you put in there about yourself so that you can be marketed in other ways,” he added.

He also advised customers to take note of the red flags when using online dating apps, particularly the language of the person they are dealing with. According to him, customers should stop responding as soon as the other person starts asking for personal information.

The BBB also cautioned customers to beware of criminals posing as potential romantic partners in these online dating sites. In 2019, the bureau received at least 1,100 complaints from online dating app users on billing and collection, poor customer service, refund issues, and advertising and sales practices. Because users of these dating apps deal with people they do not physically see, there is always the potential to come across online thieves who, after leading their victims for a while, begin claiming that they have major bills to pay and asking their online dates to wire them money.

Greenawalt suggested online dating app customers who plan to meet their matches in the flesh this Valentine’s Day to take precautionary measures by bringing a friend to their dates and avoiding private places. It is also important to let the people they trust to know their whereabouts and what time they expect to be home.

Tinder Tinder is launching a new safety feature called "panic button" on Jan. 28, 2020. Unsplash/Kon Karampelas