User Safety & Protection
Operators should provide users with advice and guidance on how to stay safe while using dating services. This can be their own advice, or they can use ODA material (#datesafe).
High level issues
The ODA advice covers a variety of risks relating to personal privacy, to the prevention of fraud and to personal safety. The ODA plans to promote these through a set of top-line messages and through the regular use of the “Date Great: Date Safe” tagline. These messages include:
Get to know the person not the profile
Stay on the site messaging service
Never, ever send money to someone you meet online
Talk to family and friends about your dating choices.
Stay in control – you should never feel pressured to do anything.
The ODA plans to deploy these on a consistent basis and in a consistent format. We recognise, however, that service providers may have their own preferences when it comes to the language and deployment of messages.
In sharing advice on managing some of the risks that come with a new online contact or a first date we encourage service providers to look at ways of incorporating guidance within a broader set of messages on how to get the most from a service or a date or some other activity. Users are there for a great positive experience and words of caution are better received alongside positive tips, guidance and encouragement.
Please give creative thought to when and how this information can be given in ways that maximise user-awareness. Operators have various opportunities to guide users on how to make best but also safe use of services. These include:
- at the point of sign-up
- when potential matches are presented
- when a user takes a subscription
- when users are alerted to interest from others through the messaging system
Operator should think about which of the messages or themes flagged above are appropriate at different points. It would seem particularly timely for services with in-service messaging tools to highlight the fact these exist as a safeguard against scammers and others who may seek to persuade those they target to move off site and into messaging platforms where they have anonymity.
Addressing User safety
Users should be made aware of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour while using a dating service.
Users should be easily able to report any abuse/harm to the dating service and should be strongly encouraged to do so. Operators need to ensure that all reports are responded to appropriately.
Operators should actively moderate all user profiles. They should ensure that appropriate arrangements exist to detect fraudulent or misleading profiles and inappropriate content and to remove such profiles from the site as soon as possible.
Most dating services do not have an issue with underage users. However, services should be vigilant to the possibility of underage users, and if a problem is identified, take steps to tackle the issue. It is up to the service to determine an effective and practical approach for their particular service. There are a number of bodies offering means by which people can verify their digital identity and be tagged accordingly on-site.
Operators should highlight ways in which users can take steps to check another user’s profile; being clear where these may be helpful but not 100% assured. A Facebook profile is a much-used tool but does not “prove” an identity.
Operators should be alert too to the possibility of under 18s trying to join a site. Automated and human profile checking and monitoring thereafter and the limits to the use of a service by those without a paid subscription might generally provide an adequate package of prevention. Services which are more niche in nature and possibly more likely to prompt younger and too young users should give thought to the value of additional messages of deterrence.
Operator staff should be alert to any report suggesting another user is behaving in ways that are a cause for concern, distress or actual harm. Services should have the ability to remove such users. If serious issues arise operators should not hesitate to direct a user to report the matter to their local police force. Operators may also see the case for checking whether the individual in question has been in contact with others on the service and might pose some threat to the safety of these other users.
Operators may have cases where it is appropriate to refer a user with concerns to agencies that specialise in these matters. The ODA site lists a number of these agencies.
Some of these agencies, including the Suzi Lamplugh Trust and other charitable entities can provide staff training on how to handle potentially difficult calls or those of a sensitive nature. This requires capabilities beyond those needed to manage subscription and service operation enquiries.
Managing the risk of fraud
Operators should not themselves create fake profiles to seem to populate a service or knowingly allow users or any other party to create and post fake profiles to attempt a fraud.
Operators should use best endeavours to identify and remove scammer profiles, using software analytics, agencies with sector-specific expertise and technology alongside profile monitoring and user reporting tools.
Scamalytics, working with the ODA and others, has set up a mechanic for checking user lists against data they have from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau with a view to removing any profiles that have been notified to NFIB as “scammer”.
Services should allow users to report others if they suspect fraud or believe the person in question is a risk to the safety of others. Operators should monitor these report channels and be ready to act promptly to remove wrongdoers. Where possible Operators should give feedback on this to those making reports.
Where there is clear and demonstrable evidence of actual or attempted fraud/of threatening behaviour, we encourage operators to look at whether that user has had significant and close contact with people other than any known victim. We encourage operators to alert these other users to the fact that this person has been removed from the service because of unacceptable behaviour. Further advice on this can be found in the Member Area of the ODA site.
Operators should always advise a victim of a scam to inform Action Fraud. This may help with investigation or prosecution. It may also allow expert victim support officers to get involved to prevent further harm.
Operators should understand they too have an ability to report a possible fraud to Action Fraud. The next steps may vary, specifically when the apparent victim is not prepared also to report the crime.
Members should have a clear understanding of the duties on them when presented with an instruction to release data or content under a RIPA (regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) Notice or a Court Order. ODA Guidance on RIPA can be found provided on request.