Not everybody is thrilled by Tuesday’s announcement that Facebook is planning to run its own dating platform on the site. Facebook Dating, set to roll out later this year, will be an opt-in feature through which the social media platform suggests matches for you based on your shared interests and events.
Sure, the news sent the stock of Tinder’s parent company tumbling and caused more than a few people to ponder if what the world really needs is yet another dating site. But there was one group that took things much more personally: Those who have been victimized by online romance scams and think Facebook is complicit.
Facebook has done a poor job of policing its platform and keeping it free from scammers, said multiple victims who first spoke to HuffPost for a July 2017 exposé on online romance scams, an estimated billion-dollars-a-year crime, according to the FBI.
Here’s how it works: Scammers steal photos from Facebook and other sites and use them to create fake Facebook profiles. They use those profiles to friend people on the site, and once a victim bites, they move the conversation over to WhatsApp or Messenger, which are both Facebook properties. After a close relationship is formed, the scammer will ask the victim for money to handle “an emergency.” Usually it’s a small amount at first, but subsequent requests for money have left some victims bilked out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. A Texas woman who cooperated with the FBI lost $2 million.
It’s a con game that experts say preys on the emotionally vulnerable, and many victims are too embarrassed to admit to family and friends that they fell for it. Only about 15 percent report scams like these to authorities, the FBI estimates.
Victims say Facebook doesn’t do much to stop fake profiles from being created. Our previous reporting showed how multiple profiles were created using identical photos and were operated simultaneously on the site ― something that facial recognition technology could easily detect if Facebook cared to use it for that purpose.
Scam victims had dire predictions about Facebook entering the matchmaking arena.
“It’s a train wreck waiting to happen,” said the moderator of Romance Scammers Exposed, a Facebook group that helps victims identify stolen photos used by romance scammers in West Africa, where many online scammers are based. The moderator asked for anonymity.
“It’s going to be party time in West Africa,” said Ruth Grover, who runs ScamHaters, a website that posts warnings about online profiles that appear to be scammers.
Facebook doesn’t have a great record when it comes to keeping the site free from abuse by online romance scammers as it is, Grover told HuffPost. What’s to say that the company won’t be just as nonchalant when it launches Dating later this year?
Noting that Facebook said nothing about security and identity verification for potential daters in its announcement Tuesday, Grover added, “We may as well close up shop and let the world get scammed!”
She continued, “It will be more of the same. Masses of fake military profiles, engineers and doctors … except Facebook is going to line up the victims for the scammers to pick off.” She called the idea that Facebook would match users specifically with people they aren’t already friends with “madness … irresponsible madness,” and added, “this should be called ‘ScamDate’ because that’s what it will be.”
Steve G. Jones, a doctor whose photos and identity were stolen by scammers and used to bilk thousands of women out of money, told HuffPost that Facebook needs to do a better job of making sure that the profiles they match people with on the forthcoming Dating platform “are indeed real.”
He knows what he’s talking about. Facebook shut down Jones’ own personal account because so many women complained that he scammed them. Yet he noted there are at least 20 fake accounts using his photos that are still up and operational on the site.
So how will Facebook screen and vet those who sign up for its Dating platform to weed out the imposters? Will photo recognition technology ― what Facebook uses to recognize our faces and tag us in photos ― be applied to people creating dating profiles?
Pete Voss, a Facebook spokesman, replied to our questions with a copy of the site’s policy: “Claiming to be another person on Facebook violates our Community Standards, and we have a dedicated team that’s tasked with helping to detect and block these kinds of scams. We’ve developed several techniques to help detect and block this type of abuse.”
He noted that fraud prevention is an area “where we are continually working to improve” and that Facebook encourages users to report suspicious material at facebook.com/report.
Time will tell how safe Facebook’s Dating platform will be. Certainly, the feature seems to make financial sense for the site. Almost 200 million Facebook users report they are single on their public profiles, and since 1 in 3 marriages in the United States start online, “Facebook Dating will help build long-term relationships and mirror the way people meet in real life — through the experiences they have in common,” according to a company press release.
Of course, when you think about it, who better to find our soulmates for us than Facebook, which already knows more about us than we ever imagined possible? Let’s just hope that soulmate is a real person.