The number of people falling victim to scams via online dating apps is increasing, and in light of the recent Netflix documentary 'Tinder Swindler', Belgian ministers have put out a warning to protect people from fraud.
In 2021, a record 1,781 complaints were filed related to fraud via online dating apps in Belgium. This number increased for the second consecutive year, mainly driven by the pandemic which fuelled loneliness and pushed many people to find friends and lovers via online platforms.
Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne and State Secretary for Consumer Protection Eva De Bleeker put out a warning to people about the phenomenon of 'Tinder Swindlers', referring to the latest Netflix documentary which tells the tale of three women who were scammed by a man they met on Tinder, the online dating app.
"It is repulsive to see how mercilessly online fraudsters sometimes operate, especially in the case of friendship fraud. They shamelessly abuse the trust and the emotions of their victims," De Bleeker said.
"Not only do they lose huge sums of money, but they also have to crawl out of the abyss emotionally afterwards. It is therefore essential to warn as many people as possible about these practices and, more importantly, to track down the perpetrators and punish them appropriately."
This phenomenon, in which scammers gain the trust of people they meet online by feigning to be their friend or partner, is not new, but it is increasing rapidly. This goes hand in hand with the ever more common use of social media and dating apps. In 2019, just 718 such cases were reported, by 2020 this figure rose to 1,317.
Fraudsters are also becoming more creative and sophisticated in their techniques, seeing more people being drawn in and victims losing more and more money.
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In light of this, Belgium is investing €1.46 million in seven new cyber magistrates at the Public Prosecutor's Office and in 26 extra support staff and IT specialists.
"Of the more than 30 people who will be added, 12 have already been recruited today. They get stuck into these kinds of files and go after those criminals," Van Quickenborne said.
Filing complaints and reporting scammers
De Bleeker stressed that people should always be on their guard when meeting someone online and highlighted the importance of not transferring money to an online contact without really knowing them and their background.
People who feel they may be in such a situation should break off all contact immediately and report any information to the relevant government website under the category fraud (friendship fraud). Victims will then receive information on the steps they can take, such as legal action.
A complaint should also be filed with the police, as some scams involve criminal networks that target victims on a large scale.