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‘Tinder Swindler’ spotlights rise of scammers using online dating, cryptocurrency

The Netflix documentary highlighted how easy it can be for scammers to steal money from people they meet on dating apps.

Netflix's "The Tinder Swindler" has raised concerns about how easy it can be for people to get scammed in the name of love, aka a "romance scam."

A person might pretend to be someone else online in order to get you to send them a hefty sum of money — and it can be very difficult for you to get your money back.

NBC News Now anchor Morgan Radford did a deep dive into these types of cons for the 3rd hour of TODAY so that people know what to avoid when they're using dating apps.

What is 'The Tinder Swindler'?

"The Tinder Swindler" is a documentary that premiered on Netflix in early February. It tells the stories of women who allege they were scammed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by a man named Simon Leviev.

Felicity Morris, director of "The Tinder Swindler," says that her documentary should be a wake-up call for those who are trying to find love online.

"The con itself was just so audacious and so elaborate," she told Radford. "It’s probably not just you that they’re doing this to."

How often do romance scams happen?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams hit an all-time high in 2021 with victims being conned out of more than $540 million.

By using love and deception, scammers have found a way to be more elaborate with their scams by using cryptocurrency.

How do romance scams and cryptocurrency go hand-in-hand?

Angelica Chavez thought she met the man of her dreams on Hinge until, she said, he scammed her out of nearly $20,000 on a different app that wasn't as legit as it appeared.

"He was everything I thought I wanted in a person," she told Radford. "He pretended to be an entrepreneur in Los Angeles, that he was coming from China."

Chavez ended up trusting him once she saw videos and heard voice notes that he was sending her. The only thing that was fishy was that he declined to meet up.

"I would ask, 'When are we going to meet?' And so there were always excuses as to why we couldn’t meet," she said.

Things took a big turn once the pair started chatting about cryptocurrency. Once Chavez asked him to teach her about it, he was happy to oblige.

Chavez ended up borrowing money from her father, which she invested through a separate online app that her date told her about. She watched her $20,000 grow into a larger sum of money.

Reflection of young businesswoman checking smartphone in the office at night
NBC News Now anchor Morgan Radford explored the dangers of romance scams in light of Netflix's "The Tinder Swindler" documentary. Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

"It had all the data, the numbers were changing, and that's similar to the real app," she said.

But Chavez later found out that the app was fake when all of her money was gone.

"It says zero return on investment," she said.

The Better Business Bureau says this type of scam is becoming more common.

How do you spot a cryptocurrency scam?

Sandra Guile, director of communications at the International Association of Better Business Bureaus, told Radford that Chavez's story is a familiar one.

"The conversation starts out of, 'Hey, would you like to learn about cryptocurrency?'" she said. "Little do you know, you're going through a completely fake website or you're actually using someone else's account, usually the scammer's, and that's where the money is going."

The BBB also says it's a red flag if someone appears to be in a hurry to get off the dating app and onto an unsecure chat website.

How do I avoid a romance scam?

There are a few ways to avoid being the victim of a romance scam. According to the FTC, you should always do a "reverse image search of the person's profile picture to see if it’s associated with another name or with details that don’t match up."

You should also be wary of people who ask you to wire money to them. That's a good indication to stop talking to the person immediately.

If your family or friends say they're concerned about your new love interest, try talking to someone you trust about the situation, the FTC suggests.

Also, the BBB says you should try to keep all conversations with your dates on the sites where you initially met them.

It also helps to quiz the person on their profile information because a scammer may not remember certain lies they've told.

How do I report a romance scam?

You can report a romance scam to the FTC here and to the BBB here.