A few weeks ago, The Tinder Swindler debuted on Netflix. A tense, fast-paced documentary, the film follows the stories of three women who fell victim to an elaborate scam concocted by Simon Leviev, in which he posed as a billionaire CEO on one of the world’s most popular dating apps in order to trick them into sending him millions of dollars. Having made headlines across the globe, the documentary still sits in the number one position in Netflix Ireland’s Top Ten. Suffice to say, the tale holds a sinister intrigue.

Since its release in 2012, Tinder – and apps like it – has revolutionised the dynamics of modern dating. While friendly gatherings, workplaces, or bars are still common and often preferred methods of meeting people, the ability to peruse a database of thousands of (alleged) singles in your local area by the mere swipe of a finger possesses an undeniable allure. The most popular app in terms of engagement remains Tinder, which as of 2022 reports a staggering 75 million monthly users. However, the likes of apps such as Bumble and Badoo (with roughly 400 million downloads worldwide) also boast both huge, rival userbases. According to a study conducted by eHarmony, twenty-two percent of young adults now actively use dating apps.

Although they were in frequent use before, part of their current immense popularity is down to the pandemic. With our capacity for in-person interaction reduced, the Internet provided a well-populated, socially distant refuge for people to get to know others over text and video chat rather than having to risk meeting in person. In many ways, they kept romance alive; giving otherwise lonely, locked down individuals the chance to connect.

However, as the documentarised misadventures of Simon Leviev has proved, apps such as Tinder can be dangerous. The same ease and relative anonymity of use that make the software so appealing to innocent date-seekers is also exactly what makes it so popular amongst scammers. In 2020, over 600 reports of online dating fraud were made in the UK. Though most accounts of scamming don’t involve the transfer of millions of dollars, people are frequently blackmailed, catfished and even tricked into dates purely with the goal of promoting a certain venue.

Worse still, these apps can be specifically dangerous for women. Though there is no hard data, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has warned that the increased popularity in dating apps has also led to an increase in sexual assaults. In 2015, the same year that Tinder usage grew in Ireland, there was a thirty-three percent increase in rape victims seeking treatment. The UK, which has a better system regarding keeping track of dating app assaults, recorded a 700 percent increase in this kind of attack in 2017 alone. The anonymity of Tinder, combined with the access it gives criminals to a wide variety of victims, enables them to feel as though they have little risk of getting caught.

On top of the threat of physical harm, women are also exposed to an overwhelming amount of harassment. Unsolicited dick pics, licentious messages and pressure for nude pictures are commonplace experiences for women online – to the point that many of us joke about it. From a more serious perspective, the rate at which women’s sexual boundaries are ignored is intensely worrying. In a recent US survey, fifty-seven per cent of the female participants claimed to have received unwanted, sexually explicit images while using online dating platforms. The same survey also found that women under the age of thirty-five were also twice as likely to be called an offensive name or physically threatened as men were.

Though Tinder, amongst other apps, has tried to mitigate these concerns by implementing the verification feature, as well as allowing people to block certain users, it is clear that online dating poses a large amount of risk. So how do we do it safely?

The first step is determining whether the profile is suspicious or not. According to RAINN, some red flags to watch out for include profiles that have no bio, no links to social media and only one or two photos. It is important to be wary of matches who are overly complimentary or romantic within a short amount of time. Though flattery is a commonly employed (and often appreciated) facet of courtship, if it seems excessive and is being used with goal of pushing you to give out personal details, meet up too quickly – or simply gives you an uncomfortable gut feeling – it’s probably a good idea to approach the conversation with caution. Likewise, if the user consistently gives vague answers and claims to be currently abroad or otherwise “unavailable,” this could be indicative of a potential scam. Which leads us to the main takeaway of Netflix’s documentary: never respond to financial requests.

The second set of tips are geared towards when it is time to meet your date in person. Although most people know that it is always a good idea to meet for a first date in a public place, additional measures such as making sure a friend knows where you are and who you’re with are important in case anything goes wrong. You should also make sure that you have the means to get home safely should the need arise – don’t rely on your date for transport. And while it’s okay to have fun, be wary around pushing your limits around the consumption of alcohol and other drugs, as these may make you more vulnerable to potential malintent.

Above all, trust your instincts. If someone is giving you a bad feeling, despite not exhibiting any other warning signs, it is perfectly acceptable to exit the situation at any time. Feel free to block or report suspicious users, and to let friends know if you think someone that they’re talking to may not be who they seem to be. Dating apps are fun – so long as they’re safe.