It’s the month of love, and we’re all in the mood for love. But making that connection in real life isn’t easy, and that’s why many people turn to online dating. It’s estimated that at least 300 million people globally are using dating apps.

And we’re spoilt for choice. With over 1,500 dating apps and websites operating worldwide at the moment, this market is projected to reach $9.2 billion by 2025.

Statista predicts that by 2027, online dating platforms will have over 440.9 million active users worldwide.

South Africa is not immune to this, with Tinder being the most downloaded dating app in the country. 

But with the rise of online dating comes scams. South Africa has seen a surge in online dating scams. Speaking to BusinessTech, the regional director at cybersecurity company Fortinet, Doros Hadjizenonos, said that users should be careful while using the internet. “So-called romance scammers typically create fake profiles to interact with users, build a relationship, and ultimately manipulate them to extract money,” he said. 

In 2021, eight Nigerian men appeared in court for an online romance scam that had targeted more than 100 people and scammed them out of almost $7 million. The FBI and Interpol helped catch them. 

Some of these scams have turned violent. 

In Gauteng, a multidisciplinary team led by the Anti-Kidnapping Task Team rescued an 18-year-old Wits University student from a kidnapping syndicate in September 2023. Seven men were arrested. 

The syndicate had been targeting the LGBTQI + community through the popular queer dating app Grindr. Grindr has since issued a warning on their app with safety tips and numbers to call in an emergency.

Here are a few tips on how to spot a romance scammer

  • Review the person’s profile for red flags like stock photos, overly high income, or age gaps in their preferred partner. If they seem too good to be true, they probably are
  • Early or inappropriate professions of love
  • Requests for money
  • Inconsistencies in communication style

While we all want to be loved, it is important to remember that scammers can capitalise on this; and take all the necessary precautions, such as letting a friend or family member know where you’re going or who you’ll be meeting. Provide as much information as possible.