Increased Calls for Congress to Take an Interest in Risks of Dating Apps

A rise in romance scams with human-trafficking ties has led to increased calls for Congressional action on the risks posed by dating apps. While romance scammers on dating apps typically coerce users into giving them money, there has been an uptick in dating app scams with human-sex-trafficking implications.

A recent series of CBS News reports, titled “Anything for Love,” shined a light on romance scams on dating applications and websites that pull their victims into horrific human-sex-trafficking rings. For example, 57-year-old, Illinois-based widow Laura Kowal fell victim to such a scam and was duped into giving her money to the scammers and laundering money taken from other victims. She later went missing and was ultimately found dead.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) believes that dating apps are a hotbed of criminal activity and even published a notice in March 2020 stating that vulnerable individuals are being targeted through dating apps. According to the FBI’s alert, human sex traffickers “exploit” these platforms for the recruitment and advertisement of sex. This warning came after the release of several investigative news reports, which discovered that some of the most popular dating apps in the world don’t have robust measures to prevent criminals and sexual predators from exploiting other users.

As a result, sexual predators and even human traffickers can easily create accounts on dating apps and use those accounts to target vulnerable users. Since dating apps have become one of the most common ways to meet romantic partners, millions of users now face the risk of romance scams and even human trafficking. The latter is one of the most pressing worldwide issues because it leads to immense suffering and provides funding for international criminal activity and terrorism.

Experts estimate that some 27.6 million people globally are being trafficked in criminal rings that generate up to $150 billion annually. However, trafficking rings have to consistently bring in new victims to maintain their profits, meaning they are always on the hunt for new people to exploit and ultimately traffic. With tens of millions of users and weak security measures, dating apps have made it easier for criminals to zero in on people with a higher likelihood of falling for romance scams.

Dating apps such as Match Group are aware that registered sex offenders and minors have accounts on the platform but have taken little effort to remedy the issue, a 2019 ProPublica report said. Following the report, Match Group received a letter from two house representatives asking it to outline the steps it would take to prevent human trafficking and sexual violence as well as vet sexual offenders. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a house subcommittee chair at the time, also sent letters to the four most popular dating apps demanding information on how they keep minors off their platforms.

The threats that are raising concern on dating apps in the United States are likely to be present in the Chinese online dating space where companies such as Momo Inc. (NASDAQ: MOMO) are vested. The industry needs to come up with innovative ways to monitor users on those platforms with an aim of cracking the whip on wrong actors.

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