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Tinder Swindler: How To Avoid Getting Scammed Online Without Giving Up On The Internet Altogether
Featured Image Credit: Netflix/@Soily17/Twitter

Tinder Swindler: How To Avoid Getting Scammed Online Without Giving Up On The Internet Altogether

Netflix's Tinder Swindler has brought online crime to the fore - but how do you avoid falling for such scams?

'Hi Poppy, I've taken all your money,' came the voice, followed by a menacing and echoing laugh that left me fearing for not just my bank balance but my physical and mental wellbeing.

Aged 19, I knew not to click links sent through from email addresses I didn't recognise, but that was the extent of any education or advice I'd received into scamming and fraud. Little did I know the months of preparation – of specific targeting over text, email and later a phone call – that a group of conmen would put into scamming me.

Fraud isn't a new crime, says Jeffrey DeMarco from Victim Support, but Netflix's new documentary Tinder Swindler has brought it to the fore, raising important questions around the shame and stigma of being a victim of cyber-enabled fraud. More specifically, it's highlighted the lack of education on how to be aware of it and be equipped to deal with it; and that while scammers defraud you of money, the real impact is often on your mental health, your sanity, and your sense of stability.

I had been receiving missed calls for a period of months from the same number, but had been taught to never pick up unless I recognised who it was. However, one day I did, curious as to who could have been persistently calling me for a number of weeks.

Despite fraud not being a new crime, DeMarco says 'with the advance of technology it’s accelerated and proliferated globally, which means that it’s much easier for fraudsters to get access to potential victims'.

'Historically, where fraud may have been occurring door to door, or requiring you to have a physical presence, we no longer have that safety. With smartphones in the back of our pockets and in our bedrooms, you are essentially accessible anywhere,' he added. 'Fraud is not all cyber-related but a large proportion of fraud is cyber-related – and it’s what we call cyber-enabled crime.'

When it happened to me I was told it was my bank, and asked if I had noticed a dodgy text message dating from months back – which I had – before I was then asked to go through a process to double check everything was secure. The text they referred to was one that had claimed to be my phone provider. It said there had been a breach of my account and asked me to provide the answer to my security question.

DeMarco explained some of the tell-tale signs of a scammer include receiving 'an email or text which might be demanding urgent action', or emails containing 'bad grammar and bad spelling mistakes' alongside a message that starts with 'an unfamiliar greeting or salutation'.

'It’s things like when you receive an email which might be demanding urgent action – so when someone sends you something which insists that when you don’t respond there could be very negative consequences – that should start to set some alarm bells off,' he said.

DeMarco also recommended checking the email address itself. 'What you’ll often see when you click on the sender details, some ridiculous line of letters, symbols and numbers. You can also, for example, look at suspicious attachments or links which have come with that. Although there’s two factor verification now, they often will never do it that way, they would suggest that you log in to your account, they would suggest that you go and review your details. Something that everyone should pay attention to is no one is going to ask for your bank details through your email, never ever. It’s not rocket science but it’s all things we take for granted,' he explained.

A scam text message (Alamy )
A scam text message (Alamy )

The man on the phone sounded reassuring. He wasn't trying to make me buy anything, wasn't asking me any details at first. He knew what he was talking about with the text from months back and seemed like he just wanted to help me, to make the tight feeling in my chest go away.

But that's what scammers prey on, your fear and panic, so you don't hear them ask for the second and fourth number of your mobile banking app pin. And then, 'Oh no, apologies, I said your first and third.'

But when they asked for my card reader, something inside me clicked. Surely they've sorted it by now? Why do they need more? I hung up. Confused. Unsure.

And then who should call but the scammer themselves to inform me: 'I've taken all your money, Poppy.'

The fact he knew my name, knew so much about me and laughed at me, brought on a choke of tears which led to a panic attack, my fingers swiping despairingly across my phone screen to access my app to see that, yes, all my money was in the process of being drained from my account.

I hung up, dialled my bank's real number, and thankfully they were able to stop the transaction before it went through.

The text had been from months ago. Which meant months of planning, months of a scheme, all directed at me. He also said my name. Did I know them? They know where I lived, were they going to come after me? Would they physically hurt me considering I managed to stop them getting the money? Why did they target me? Why not a millionaire? Someone with a full-time job? Why a student with barely any money to their name?

Maddie, who works at Victim Support, said 'there’s definitely a lack of awareness about just how widespread it is and the impact it has on victims, across all aspects of their life', particularly 'the long term impacts on people’s mental health'.

I was left with so many questions, and so much fear. Yet despite retaining my money, I wasn't offered any support, any organisation to turn to.

To my knowledge, the scammers have never been found. I felt ashamed, stupid, and unsafe.

'There’s an issue with the volume of crime, so it’s so fast and furious and difficult for agencies and criminal justice offices such as the police to keep up with. And it’s not like they’re not trying to do an effective or good job, but with technology and the advances of things happening online there’s so much. It’s easy for a fraudster to send one message to tens of thousands of people, and they only need a few of them to respond,' DeMarco explained.

Instead, the focus from such groups often takes the form of preventative messages to the public, and signposting where to go if you do fall victim to the crime.

'So what should you do? The first thing, is don’t open it. The email or the text for example, don’t open it if you’re suspicious, don’t click on any of the links, and as your first port of call, delete it. You should push it onto your banks’ cyber security or fraud department, if and when possible. You shouldn’t let the police know, but you can let Action Fraud know,' DeMarco said.

'So again, if you have the time, energy, resources, cognitive capacity, it’s always helpful to do that. You might be a resilient person, but you sharing that suspicion with those who are charged with dealing with the consequences of fraud, can help protect a lot of other people who might not have the same protective factors in place,' he continued.

If you have found yourself to be a victim of fraud, DeMarco reassured: 'Take a step back, breathe, and always remember it’s not you, it’s them. They’re opportunistic, this is what they do, they’re trying to commit these crimes in order to make financial remunerations for themselves.

'If you’ve been had by the fraudster, then you shouldn’t feel embarrassed, you should just seek help and just seek support as soon as you can.'

You have a right to report the incident – a crime – to the police, who will do everything they can to investigate.

Help and advice can also be found in organisations like Victim Support.

'Organisations such as ourselves have two or three levels of support. We have something called My Support Space, which is a self help online tool for any victim of crime which allows them to engage with resources that helps with their coping strategies,' DeMarco said.

'They can also call our support line which is there 24/7, so that an individual can refer them to our own organisations but in different areas, so they can speak to a case worker and talk about a plan to restore themselves to the psychological and mental place that they were in before the crime,' he said.

'There’s that stereotypical view that it will be older people who are less technologically aware of what to do when these things happen, and there’ll be an element of that. But for young people it’s the same thing, they might be more technologically aware, but they’re more quick to click on links. Especially links which contain offers which sound too good to be true,' DeMarco added.

From being tagged in an Instagram post that says you've won a free iPhone, being sent a text that wants to reschedule your 'delivery', or an email urging you to act, there are multiple ways you can be targeted.

Emily was trying to get a ticket to join her friends at a gig last year and took to Facebook in her search, where someone said they would 'sell it at face value' of £60 and that they'd email it over.

'I'd seen they'd commented on a few different posts so it did seem as if they had tickets to sell, so I agreed and asked them to send me a screenshot of the tickets so I knew it was real. I was scared of being scammed, and though I felt more assured after receiving the screenshot I was still a bit wary, so asked if I could send half of the money upfront, and half when I received the ticket. The seller agreed and so I sent over £30 and received an email with the ticket,' Emily explained.

'However when I looked at the address of the venue it claimed to be in a different country entirely. When I questioned the seller about this they failed to respond. I knew I'd been scammed, which was so annoying when I'd done everything I could think of to make sure it was legitimate. Although it was only £30 I didn't want the seller to have the satisfaction of having tricked me, so reported it to the bank in an attempt to stop the transaction,' she said.

Emily's bank couldn't retrieve the money, and only agreed to refund 'under the promise that I 'be more wary' in future. Aside from not buying the ticket at all I can't think of anything else I could have done, so it was frustrating to hear that I should have been more careful, but it definitely taught me a lesson about buying things from strangers online!'

More needs to be done to educate and raise awareness of what to look out for, how best to protect yourself, and who to go to for support if you do fall victim to such crimes.

Schools will often teach Personal Safety Health and Economic (PSHE) lessons, which incorporate a section on online safety through the National Crime Agency's Centre for Exploitation and Online Protection branch, but DeMarco suggests more specific resources are needed that parents, teachers and students all fully understand.

'We need to make sure that the resources and curriculum is made so that the teachers feel confident, the parents feel confident, and that young people are actually getting the full information,' he said.

'Early intervention, early awareness, it still might happen, but at least you feel more confident, are slightly protected, and know where to seek help, which will hopefully help mitigate against some of those emotional and psychological impacts'.

Victim Support offers practical and emotional support for victims of crime, such as fraud – call the charity’s free 24/7 Supportline on 0808 16 89 111 or visit the website

Topics: Tinder, Crime, True crime, Technology