Dating App Crime: New Study Warns Sex Crimes on the Rise
It's no secret that Americans' lives are increasingly hectic, revolving around full-time careers that now demand more than the standard 40-hour work week. As a result, many are turning to digital solutions to provide faster, more convenient options to enjoy the simple things in life.
Feature-rich websites and digital apps enable busy persons to order dinner, socialize with friends and family and even get medical care - right from their mobile phone or computer.
And finding true love is no longer an exception.
Once scorned, online dating sites and apps have more widely become the norm for finding both casual and long-term romantic relationships - with 15% of US adults having tried it, according to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center.
In fact, the study found nearly half the public knows someone who uses online dating or who has met a spouse or partner via online dating.
Their rising popularity, success rates and social acceptability make it clear that digital dating options are here to stay. Giving singles hope that their next love connection could be a mere compatibility quiz or right swipe away.
But is their mounting appeal overshadowing a dark side to the ever-increasing numbers using online dating sites and dating apps?
Shocking UK research suggests yes.
A 2016 National Crime Agency (NCA) study uncovered an alarming rise in in the number of serious sexual offenses linked to online dating websites and dating apps in the UK - an increase 600% from 2009 to 2014.
Frighteningly, it's safe to assume these results are similarly on the rise as Americans' online dating and dating app usage continues to expand. But there is a distinct lack of official statistics on crimes related to these platforms in the United States.
This oversight prompted us to undertake our own investigation. Read on for the telling results.
Study of Media Reports on Dating App-Related Crime in the United States
Recent media headlines allude to increasing dating app-related crimes in the US.
For example, The Dallas Daily News reports that local police believe online introductions contributed to the spike in Dallas rapes that occurred in 2015, and will be tracking their exact impact moving forward as a result.
While the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center similarly blames online meetings for the ongoing rise in sexual assault and rape cases throughout the Cleveland area, according to newsnet5.com.
By conducting a thorough study based on a vast collection of similar media reports throughout the US, we can form a comprehensive picture of the impact of digital dating on crime rates at a national level.
In this study, we collected news reports covering offenses linked to online dating sites and dating apps dated 2014 to present - sampling from worldwide sources on cases geographically limited to the US.
Our aim was to roughly gauge how the reported instances of illicit behavior explicitly linked to dating apps have changed over time. As well as capture a snapshot of how these reported crimes break down by offense categories, with an estimated number of implicated victims for each.
We found a substantial upward trend in overall reported crimes linked to dating apps and online dating from 2014 to 2016, as seen in Figure 1.
Most notably, the number of news articles and estimated victims implicated between January 2016 and February 2016 was nearly 1,000% greater than all figures reported for the entire year of 2014.
A Deeper Dive into Results by Crime Type
We further broke down reported crimes linked to dating apps and online dating from 2014 to 2016 by crime type and estimated number of victims implicated for each, as seen in Figure 2.
A leading crime category in our study, Romance Scams involves a fraudster gaining access to a potential victim's personal contact information - most often through a fake social network or dating profile.
They then take advantage of the inherent digital barriers between individuals on these platforms; easily lying about their identity, then feigning love or personal affection towards them to effectively solicit money or personal financial information.
These tactics cost online dating victims' a total $86 million in 2014 alone, according to the FBI's 2014 Internet Crime report. And that number has continued to rise steadily since the FBI's IC3 (Internet Crime Complaint Center) began tracking the crime distinctly in 2011.
As seen in Figure 2, our study found Romance Scams to be the second most common form of crime linked to dating apps in media coverage from June 2014 to February 2016. They accounted for approximately 37% of media reports sampled, closely following sexual assault at 40%.
However despite these close figures, the number of victims identified in Romance Scams was significantly higher than sexual assault, leading all categories of online dating-related crime with approximately 50% of all estimated victims implicated within the sampled news reports.
Assault and Sexual Assault
While the US has not recorded cases of assault or sexual assault related to the use of dating apps on a national scale, our research indicates trends mirroring the patterns seen in the data from the recent UK National Crime Agency (NCA) study.
We found crimes categorized as sexual assault to have the greatest number of media-reported cases linked to encounters that started online or through a mobile dating app from June 2014 to February 2016. Accounting for 40% of all news reports gathered in the study, as seen in Figure 2.
Our research also tracked media coverage related to violence, such as robbery and assault, resulting from the use of dating apps. These instances accounted for approximately 15% of reported cases, and approximately 16% of associated victims.
Explaining the Rise of Dating App-Related Crime in the United States
Our data shows a significant increase in media-reported cases of crime related to dating apps in the US - which can likely be attributed to these apps' rise in popularity over the past several years.
Why? Because dating apps give predators the ability to easily provide fraudulent personal information, with the intention to deceive.
And since it's typical for dating app users to meet people completely outside of their social circle within the platform, they're more susceptible to that deception; without acquaintances who know and can vouch for potential matches.
Another plausible reason for the rise in crimes linked to dating apps could be the circumstances inherent to online communication and dating. Namely, the different manners of conduct and expectations relating to how individuals interact online versus offline, and when they consequently meet.
Online daters tend to trust more easily, and share more intimate details about themselves within a dating platform environment. While relative anonymity often empowers users to act more sexually aggressive or suggestive than they would in person.
Combined, these elements typically lead to rapid transitions - from initially trusting a stranger to meeting them face-to-face. Which increases the potential for exposure to scamming and predatory behavior.
However despite these growing dangers associated with online dating, it remains an extensive technological and cultural reality - attracting ever-increasing numbers of users pursuing romantic ends.
Thus, it's not a great leap to hypothesize that a growing minority of users will continue to take advantage of dating apps' ease-of-access and virtual anonymity for illicit, dishonest, threatening or even potentially violent means.
Tips to Stay Safe while using Online Dating and Dating Apps
Our research shows there are very real threats involved with online dating. But by taking precautionary steps, it's possible to significantly lessen your risk.
Before a date:
- For solely internet-based relationships, be wary of scam warning signs like persistent reasons why they can't meet in person, quick declarations of love or requests for emergency financial assistance.
- When meeting someone in person for the first time, do your research. Check out their social profiles, and use a reverse phone lookup service like CallerSmart to verify their identity and check for reports of suspicious behavior.
- Tell a friend or family member about your upcoming date. Include key details such as when and where you'll be meeting this person, and their full name and contact information.
- Suggest a double-date with a trusted friend.
During a date:
- On your first few dates, only meet in public areas. Take public transportation or drive yourself, and arrive a few minutes early to park your car and meet your date at the location entrance.
- Don't disclose sensitive personal information, like where you live and work or your financial situation. Instead, stick to safe topics such as shared interests.
- If you get a bad vibe from your date, trust your gut and get out of the situation immediately.
With these tips in mind, you can protect yourself against predators and scammers that use online dating and dating apps to target unsuspecting victims. For more info and tips on how to stay safe while using online dating and dating apps check out our guide on online dating.