As a single twenty-something-year-old, I sadly have plenty of experience with dating apps. For my generation, dating apps seem to be the only way to meet anyone now. It is becoming rarer and rarer for you to meet someone organically than if you were to get on one of the apps and go on a swiping spree. Unfortunately, when using dating apps, you have to prepare for the risks that come along with them. And as Valentine's Day approaches us, all the singles out there should be aware of those risks.
On this week's episode of Reimagining Cyber, Stan Wisseman and Rob Aragao welcomed co-founder of Scamalytics, Dan Winchester, onto the podcast to discuss how cyber scams are breaking hearts. Dan Winchester has been working in the field for over ten years, runs his own dating service, and is the Deputy Chair of the Online Dating Association, the industry's trade association. Scamalytics provides a service to dating industries to detect scammers on their platforms and protect their users from fraud. The service works by sharing intelligence between services and applying machine learning.
Probably the most considerable risk that any online dating user will experience is the possibility of someone pretending to be someone else, otherwise known as "catfishing." It seems that people "catfish" others for many reasons. It may be because the "catfisher" does not like their appearance or, in a scarier circumstance, they want to scam someone else. This is where Dan Winchester and his company, Scamalytics, come into play.
Luckily because of services such as Scamalytics, fraud is being heavily prevented on dating apps. This is because Scamalytics looks for signs of scammers. Symptoms include IP addresses not matching where users say they are, email addresses, photos, and even data points through messages. However, messages tend to be the last resort to keep users' privacy as safe as possible.
Let's look at one sign, in particular, IP addresses. Winchester says that one of the biggest challenges recently is that they see the movement of fraud from data centers. Winchester goes on to say, "IP information's been really useful to detect fraud, and one of the things you can look at is we're expecting a normal internet user and, and actually, we're seeing a data center, so that's going to up the fraud risk. But if you're seeing, you know, just what looks like a normal internet user on an IP address that belongs to a normal residential internet service provider, then it's very hard to put a risk score on that." Scammers are becoming harder to detect through IP addresses because companies offering IP addresses for legitimate services are being taken advantage of, which allows scammers to appear more like normal dating app users.
Winchester also discusses the importance of domain knowledge. While the future of fraud detection is heading towards machine learning, domain knowledge still plays a significant role in deciding more sticky situations. Winchester states, "Machine learning's really good for the kind of simpler problems where you just need tons and tons of scale, and you need to make some quick decisions." Winchester believes that domain knowledge is more beneficial because you have to be attuned to false positives. With machine learning, you could quickly get into a routine where you flag relatively low-risk data points as high-risk data points, which can lead to significant gaps in data, and some scammers could get away with fraud.
While Winchester and Scamalytics are doing their part to prevent scams on dating apps, you can also do your own part. Winchester advises anyone using dating apps to keep the conversation going on the app. It is more likely that the scammer will take action once the conversation moves off the app and onto a third-party communication platform. This is because if they stay on the dating app, they will eventually be caught, but a platform that sole function is communication will most likely not have the sort of systems such as Scamalytics in place to detect fraud. It is important if you are going to be a dating app user, and let's be honest, most of the single population will be; you need to do your part to protect yourself and others.
To learn more about Dan Winchester and the topics discussed in this episode, take a look at Reimagining Cyber’s episode: “Cyber Scams Breaking Hearts – A Valentine’s Special.”