Like many people, I watched the Tinder Swindler the other day on Netflix. If you are unfamiliar with it, it is a documentary about a conman, who wooed women on Tinder, pretending to be a diamond trader. He had private jets and designer clothes. And sooner or later, he asked the women to advance him some money, to deal with a temporary cash-flow issue. Of course, he just took the money and spent it living the high life in fancy resorts.
Scams related to dating apps aren’t new, and they go back much further. To when people seeking romance had to put an ad in the newspaper rather than online. I was also reading about a famous murder last week, in which the killer absconded and was caught living with a woman he had met through a personals ad. This was in 1828.
It seems the first lonely hearts ads appeared in the eighteenth century, though it’s unclear how many (if any) of the earliest examples were genuine or jokes.
Through the nineteenth century they became a more common feature in newspapers, and standard in the twentieth. They also offered a potential crop of targets for criminals of various stripes, notably confidence tricksters hoping to get cash from their “date”, and blackmailers (who would lure the victim into a compromising situation then demand a payoff).
“Catfishing” is also hardly new, in terms of people adjusting the truth in terms of what they put in their ads. Some ads weren’t real at all, in that Lonely Hearts ads were also an easy way for spies to put out coded messages to their contacts.
Today we hear regularly of people who are conned into what they believe is the relationship online with someone they have never met. This is happening at a much greater level than the old print ad scams could. Partly because the scammers can have multiple accounts with fake photos and be luring in dozens of victims at the same time. Partly because the internet itself does not have our back when it comes to this kind of thing.