Scientists track dating scams and other feel-good frauds

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 May, 2015, 7:34am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 May, 2015, 7:34am

Here's a perfect fraud. You commit a crime but your victim has such a good time he doesn't even think he's been conned.

It turns out this is the kind of swindle that is prevalent in China's largest dating service operated by Jiayuan, according to a joint study by the company and researchers from University College London.

The bosses at Jiayuan, which boasts of 100 million registered accounts and 10 million active users on the mainland, have become alarmed by frauds committed on their website. So they worked with IT experts at UCL to develop techniques to spot and track scam artists as well as develop systems to classify the type of scams most commonly found.

The exercise ended up identifying half a million fake accounts suspected of committing fraud against Jiayuan users.

The most common is escort service adverts for prostitutes. The study identifies 374,051 such accounts. And then there are what is called "dates for profit", the type of feel-good scams referred to above, which account for more than 10 per cent, or 57,218, of the total fake accounts.

"On Jiayuan, we observed an interesting trend in scams that exploit in-person meetings," wrote the researchers, whose paper will be presented in July at the Conference on Detection of Intrusions and Malware and Vulnerability Assessment in Milan.

"Owners of establishments such as cafes and restaurants would hire girls to create profiles on the online dating site, contact multiple victims, and ask them to meet in person at that particular establishment. Such establishments are usually very expensive, and it is customary in China for males to pay for food and drink on dates.

"The owners of the establishments can make a considerable amount of money out of these scams. Obviously, after this first encounter, the victim is never contacted again. The scammer leverages the desire of the victim to meet an attractive woman. It is likely that the victim will never realise that he has been scammed, since the date really happened, and the victim possibly had a good time."

Other scams are more traditional, such as establishing contacts with lonely hearts and then asking for money, say, to buy a plane ticket to meet. These swindlers make up 43,000-plus of the fraudulent accounts.

The last is match-making services, with 39,900-plus accounts that hijack Jiayuan's service and steal clients. The researchers write: "Our results shed light on the threats associated with online dating scams, and can help researchers and practitioners in developing effective countermeasures to fight them."