The financial risks and rewards of online dating

There may be plenty of fish in the sea, but there's also plenty of phishers. In today's digitally-driven culture, many people find their future spouse by dating online — and there are even financial advantages to doing so — but there are also major risks.

Online dating has grown from nothing just 24 years ago to becoming a global, multi-billion dollar industry. According to The Motley Fool, the U.S. market is worth $2.2 billion in annual revenue and is growing at 5 percent per year. In contrast, China was forecast to be worth $1.6 billion in revenue at the end of 2018 as Chinese consumers increasingly use the Tinder app.

According to a study from the University of Vienna, online dating is now the second most popular way of meeting a future spouse for heterosexual couples, right after being introduced by a friend. For same-sex couples, it is the No. 1 method for finding a spouse, accounting for almost 70 percent of couples.

Match.com is the largest player in online dating industry with a 25 percent market share position, more than double the No. 2 competitor, eHarmony, which has a 12 percent share according to The Motley Fool. Launched in 1995 and based in Dallas, Match.com operates in 25 countries and has multiple brands including OkCupid, Chemistry.com, Tinder and PlentyOfFish.

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Married couples who met online dated for a shorter period of time before getting hitched than married couples who met offline, saving the online daters thousands of dollars. According to a study by ConverEx Group LLC reported in Global Data Insights the average married couple who met online dated for 18.5 months before reaching the altar while those who met offline dated an average of 42 months.

ConvergEx used a conservative estimate of one date per week and a cost of $130 per date, which was broken down as $100 for a meal and drinks at a nice restaurant, plus $30 for two movie tickets and popcorn. The dating phase leading up to an offline marriage runs up a $23,660 tab. In comparison, the dating phase for an online marriage costs just $10,857 – a savings of $12,803 as a result of far fewer dates. ConvergEx noted that the average dating site customer spends just $239 a year for online membership which more than pays for itself given the savings. If the couple splits the cost on dates, that’s a savings of about $6,400 each.
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A guide for online dating apps reveals that there is significant room for improvement with the highest rated app garnering a paltry score of 56 out of a possible 100 points. The guide by Consumer Reports rated 14 popular online dating apps that included both free and subscription versions. The guide included what Consumer Reports calls the “Big 3” which are Match.com, OkCupid and PlentyOfFish. Overall the ratings of the dating apps were the lowest satisfaction scores the magazine has ever seen for services rendered. A similar rating guide on P2P apps showed Apple Pay rated a 76 and Venmo scored a 69.

The biggest drivers behind the low scores were low quantity and quality of matches. Additionally, users rated all of the apps, with the exception of OkCupid, as “worst” when it came to the amount of information provided about potential dates. The OkCupid scored just one notch above “worst.” The top 5 apps scored better when it came to “ease of sign up” and “ease of making changes.”
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When it comes to revealing personal information such as home address and phone number, men tend to be quicker at providing the details to someone that they met online. According to a study of 21,081 online dating users in 32 countries by Moscow, Russia-based cyber security and anti-virus provider, Kaspersky Lab, 16 percent of men are willing to give out their home address just minutes after meeting someone online through a dating app. Whereas one quarter (25 percent) of women will wait more than several months before revealing their personal home address.

Kaspersky found a worrying number of online dating users are, through their profiles, placing sensitive information about themselves into the public domain which could potentially lead them to harm if the information was to fall into the wrong hands. The study cites the example that a tenth of online dating users shared their full home address publicly on their profile.

The study also found 9 percent have shared intimate photos of themselves publicly on their profile and that 14 percent provide their matches with private or unclothed photos of themselves.
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The internet makes it easy to collect information on a victim and online dating websites are so ripe for the picking that romance-based scams are on the rise. According to the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3) there were almost 15,000 complaints filed in 2016 regarding romance-based scams, up by nearly 2,500 complaints from the year before. The FBI also emphasized that romance-based scams cost consumers more than $230 million in losses in 2016.

The FBI reports that romance scams, also called confidence fraud, result in the highest amount of financial losses to victims when compared to other online crimes.

Romance scammers often say they are in the building and construction industry and are engaged in projects outside the U.S., making it easier to avoid meeting in person. It also makes it more plausible when they ask their victims for help. Common ruses include requesting money for a medical emergency or unexpected legal fee.

Romance scams cost Canadian consumers more than CAD$22.5 million (about US$17 million) on losses last year. According to the Canadian Better Business Bureau, romance scams were the No. 1 scam perpetrated by thieves in 2018, beating out income tax extortion scams which came in second with more than CAD$6 million (about US$4.5. million) in losses.
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When it comes to online dating gender composition, the U.S. market is almost at a 50/50 equality level, yet in many foreign markets men dominate the online dating scene.

Take Italy, for example, where men outnumber women online daters at a three-to-one level, according to DatingScout.com, a dating website comparison service that conducted a study which analyzed 22 million profile pictures from online dating users in 16 countries. Across all 15 international markets, the ratio was 64.65 percent men and 35.35 percent women.

Almost 80 percent of men and 84 percent of women in international markets were between 18-34 in the profiles studied. In comparison, almost 82 percent of men and 89 percent of women on U.S. dating websites are between 18-34. In fact, a whopping 53.38 percent of women on U.S. dating websites are between 18-24 years old.

In examining the profile photos, the study found that the Irish upload the most photos with the worst quality. Ireland is the main exporter of underexposed photos, with their low content quality and appearance. Coming in second would be the U.K., followed by the Germans.
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