Hunt for love on Tinder increasingly foiled by phishing bots
New Zealand is seeing a flood of fake Tinder profiles run by automated "bots".
The bots typically respond "hello" immediately after matching and then invite men to visit their private webcam on another site soon afterwards – with the aim of convincing them to part with money or simply fleecing them of credit card details in a phishing scam.
But one expert says the bots being used in New Zealand are increasing in sophistication and "learning" how to convincingly appear to be real people, fooling Tinder users into talking with them. The longer they keep a user engaged, the more likely they are to con them into handing over money or details.
Auckland man Bryce Robertson, a 20-year-old Law and Arts student, has used the Tinder service for three years and said "it does seem like there are a lot of bots" in the Auckland area.
"Four weeks ago it started to pick up," Robertson said. "It's definitely more of an issue than it was a year ago."
Another user, a 31-year-old artist originally from the United States who did not wish to be named, said he thought there were "a lot" in Auckland and estimated that about 20 per cent of his matches were bots.
"I was in Ohio, didn't see any bots. I was on it for a little bit in Los Angeles, don't think I saw any there."
But he found himself hit by bots in Auckland.
He encountered so many matching Tinder bot profiles that he decided to make conversation with them and see how far he could push their programming.
"I've seen a mix of bots. I've seen them without a profile at all, I've seen them with a pretty legitimate-sounding profile with half a paragraph telling you who they are."
Cybersecurity specialist Bahman Sarrafpour spent 20 years working in cryptography in Silicon Valley and now lectures at Unitec in Auckland.
He said it did not surprise him that there were a large number of Tinder bots in Auckland.
"They target the areas that people have more interest," Sarrafpour said.
"They pretend to be human, creating profiles, creating Facebook, connecting it to Tinder.
"Tinder [then] does part of the job by connecting them to those people who are like-minded."
Sarrafpour said bots for online scams were now being designed more intelligently using advances in machine learning.
Many learned from the conversations they were having with people – even the unsuccessful ones.
"The programme is kind of self-learning [and] based on interactions with the user they start to collectively add more information to respond in a better way."
One advance Sarrafpour had heard of was a change in the response time of many bots.
Where bots would normally try to redirect dates to another website promising a private webcam almost as soon as a match was made, some of them had now "learned" to wait for a particular period of time before asking.
"[They] try to sign you into some of these other web applications or websites and by doing that they gain some money."
Robertson said the most convincing bot he ever met on the service sent five messages before revealing itself by asking him to visit "her" private link.
Auckland University Students Association president Will Matthews said he hadn't heard anything about a recent increase in tinder bots in Auckland but that 'bots' had been a common feature of several electronic dating sites in the past.
"I remember it happening when everyone was using Chatroulette, then everyone started using Omegle instead," Matthews said.
"Then that one got taken over by bots."
Matthews said Tinder was definitely a popular app amongst students, even sparking several "semi-urban myths" about how overuse of it had caused the internet to crash at several halls of residence when it was first released.
Katrina Ruthven, a 19-year-old student at the University of Auckland, said she had never had any encounters with Tinder bots on the service but she had definitely heard a lot of complaints from men about them.
"I know that like lots of guys, every profile they come across they do select, while I am very careful and hardly ever choose anyone."
A 31-year-old artist and Tinder user agreed that men were more likely to be targeted because of their less selective approach to the service.
"As a male on Tinder I learned very quickly to not waste time reading the profiles because if only one out of every two [women] swipes right [on my profile] I get a match, and I read every single profile I've wasted two hours of my life reading profiles."
Robertson added men would remain targets because "you always get guys who want something too good to be true".
Sarrafpour suggested users could quickly determine if a person was a bot or not by typing in random combinations of letters or looking for glitches such as inconsistent responses to the same question.
"Possibly you can [ask to] meet or something like that."