Ever hear of the Tinder Swindler?
The Tinder Swindler is a Netflix documentary about lies, deceit and online dating. Shimon Hayut, aka the Tinder Swindler, is a convicted fraudster who used dating apps to meet women, then established lines of credit and loans in their names, ultimately leaving them holding the bills.
Hayut assumed multiple identities in order to keep his scheme running. He was convicted of fraud in Finland under his birth name but carried out his Tinder con under the name Simon Leviev, claiming to be the son of wealthy diamond magnate Lev Leviev. Once his name was revealed in a VG exposé, he supposedly took the name David Sharon to evade the authorities.
Hayut apparently followed a pattern: He would match with a woman on Tinder, take her on a costly and impressive first date (in the case of Cecilie Schrøder Fjellhøy, a trip on a private jet), and slowly build their relationship while flying around the world and secretly dating other women. His accusers claim that, at a certain point, Hayut would confide in them that he was worried a nebulous group of his “enemies” was just around the corner. Eventually, he would send a photo of his bleeding bodyguard, allegedly injured by these enemies, to incite further concern. Once that groundwork had been laid, he would urgently message each “girlfriend” to say that his credit card could not be used for security reasons and ask her to open a new one under her name for him to use. From there, he was off to the races.
No doubt there have been countless Tinder Swindlers, many of whom have gone unreported because of embarrassment by the victims.
In fact, romance scams have caused one of the highest amounts of financial losses compared with other online crimes. According to the FTC, consumer-reported losses hit a record high of $1.3 million in 2022, increasing by nearly 138% from 2021.
The good news is that there’s a new bill circulating in Congress that is designed to fight off dating app fraud.
Introducing the Online Dating Safety Act
The Online Dating Safety Act is being introduced by the U.S. Congress. It would require users to provide copies of their government-issued ID cards in order to use dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and eHarmony. On November 2, 2023, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 11-8 to advance a bipartisan bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) that would require online dating service providers to provide fraud ban notifications to their online members. It would also require the apps to inform users if they spoke with members who were previously removed from the platform due to violating terms of service. New users would be required to register with a government-issued ID.
“While we can’t stop all criminals, this bill is an important step to fill a communication gap and help people make more informed decisions,” Rep. Valadao said. “It is alarmingly easy for predators online to manipulate innocent people, and the Online Dating Safety Act is an important step to help people make informed decisions about who they’re really talking to online.”
An important side benefit of requiring a government-issued ID is that these dating apps could also better enforce age verification of its members. Although these companies say they are doing what they can to keep kids under 18 off their platforms, they aren’t succeeding — underage users can still easily create profiles, which puts them at risk of being preyed on by adults.
Most popular dating apps mandate that users be at least 18 to join, but they rely on self-reported information. When signing up, users must provide their birthday or link a social-media profile that includes their date of birth. But they are not required to provide any real proof of their age. Facebook and Instagram, which they may connect to their online-dating account, also don’t ask for evidence of a user’s age.
Stopping someone from lying about their birthday is virtually impossible, and other safeguards appear to be minimal at best. Anyone who says that they’re 18 or older is free to start adding photos, customizing a profile, and connecting with other users — mostly adults — in their area.
However, emerging age verification solutions that require a legitimate government-issued ID (and a corroborating selfie) can help these dating platforms provide a significantly higher level of identity assurance than relying on self-reported information.
Online identity verification services can help dating apps in three critical ways:
- Enhances User Safety: Provides a secure environment for genuine users seeking connections.
- Reduces Scams: Mitigates the risks associated with fraudulent activities and romance scams (including catfishing).
- Protects Minors: Prevents underage individuals from accessing dating platforms, safeguarding them from potential risks.
The Online Dating Safety Act is an important piece of legislation that can go a long way towards protecting users. The simple act of requiring a driver’s license, passport or ID card along with a selfie can ensure users are who they say they are, that they are of legal age and, perhaps most importantly, deter bad actors from gaining access to these dating platforms.