Fraud in the digital dating age

JWed focuses on a specific population – marriage-minded Jewish singles – but it is very successful at what it does.

cyber hack virus hacking 370 (photo credit: Jim Urquhart/Reuters)
cyber hack virus hacking 370
(photo credit: Jim Urquhart/Reuters)
In a bid to stay relevant among millennials, Facebook launched its new dating site in the first week of September. It’s a natural move for the social networking site having 2.2 billion monthly users, 200 million of whom identify as single, and hundreds of petabytes of data. But when it comes to helping people find their soul mates, is bigger necessarily better?
As someone whose life’s work is to facilitate better first dates and more soul mate connections, I’m concerned about how the social networking titan, plagued by nearly monthly hacks and scandals, will ensure that everyone on their platform is properly screened.
I’m not the only one who is apprehensive. Within days of Facebook’s site launch, the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific sent out a warning about avoiding scams. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2018, people reported losing $143 million to romance scams – more than to any other type of scam reported to the FTC. And more than 85% of these scams started on or involved Facebook. Dating scams can not only be costly, but also potentially dangerous. If Facebook is sincere about facilitating well-meaning, committed relationships, it would do well to adopt some of the techniques used by smaller dating sites.
JWed focuses on a specific population – marriage-minded Jewish singles – but it is very successful at what it does: In 18 years, it has helped build over 3,300 new households. Here are some strategies I’ve gleaned through my experience with JWed that Facebook could adapt to its broader clientele:
Start filtering from the outset. At JWed, we circumvent potential issues by manually screening every profile. As a result, only 30% of applicants are approved to use our system. We reject 7 out of 10 profiles due to suspected spam, fraud, or not meeting our site’s “authentically Jewish and single” criteria. Obviously, Facebook’s sheer scale makes human review an impossibility, but an algorithm can replace its wide-open-door policy; currently, anyone can join Facebook, and anyone with Facebook can join Facebook Dating.
Filter more rigorously to facilitate more meaningful relationships. Facebook Dating aspires to help you “find love through what you like,” making suggestions based on your preferences, interests and other things you do on Facebook. While a shared passion for mariachi may make for good conversation – or even a good date – it doesn’t necessarily foster a long-term connection or provide firm footing for a committed relationship. On the other hand, look at Jane and Richard, two 60-year-olds searching for love for the second time. Both prioritized religious principles paired with fine culture. When they first met at a kosher grill, these shared values created an immediate rapport, and thought-provoking conversation quickly ripened into love and marriage. At JWed, we use carefully crafted two-way filters to only show users profiles compatible in terms of core values and religious affiliation. Because ultimately, the most successful relationships are between people with common values.
Take scam reporting seriously. Facebook Dating allows users to block specific people from contacting them. That’s a great first step in avoiding unwanted overtures, but it doesn’t stop suspected scammers from turning to the more credulous. Users do have the option of reporting suspicious activity, but Facebook does not make it clear what it does with that information. JWed is very intentional in its screening and fraud prevention, because we want to make sure that all of our users are protected from any potential threat. When a member is reported as a suspected scammer, we review his or her profile immediately and conduct a telephone interview. If JWed confirms a scam profile, it not only removes the profile – it contacts every user who was in touch with that member to warn them to discontinue communications. While staying ahead of evolving scammers is an ongoing battle, the most effective and appropriate way to contain the damage they cause is to notify users.
As Facebook considers how to address safety, security and compatibility on their new website, a Jewish dating site may seem like an unlikely teacher. But if they want to gain the trust of their users and avoid the scandals that have haunted their main site, these suggestions would be a great place to start.