You’d be forgiven for thinking that ensuring users aren’t subjected to bad content on dating sites and online marketplaces means waging war on trolling, nudity, and unsavoury content.
Sure, that’s a large part of it, but the fact is bad content has a broader meaning – it’s anything designed to harm or deceive users; images that can negatively impact their user experience, break their trust, or even – worst-case scenario – put them at risk of theft or abuse.
As a result, marketplaces and dating site owners need to ensure they’re aware of the potential outcomes bad images pose. Let’s take a look at the most common types of bad images and consider the impact on both dating app and marketplace users.
The trouble with watermarks is that they often look bad. Sure, they can be positioned more subtly on an image, but the overall impact is that they detract from the image focus. However, they’re still used by many vendors – often to avoid paying sellers’ fee to use an online marketplace.
For example, someone selling a high-priced item (or numerous items of the same price, like a TV, computer, tablet, or phone) may try to circumvent site policies by including their email address, website URL, or phone/WhatsApp number in the watermark itself.
The likelihood is, however, that those who try to lure users away are scammers – compromising user safety (and user trust too) as they’re directed away from legitimate marketplaces.
On marketplaces, watermarks on profile pics are mainly used in the same way as product photos. However, on dating sites, their use is much more frequent and more-often-than-not, used to promote escort services and prostitution. Watermarks are used similarly in 1-to-1 chats – to send contact information in a way that can’t be detected by text filters.
eBay banned watermarks a couple of years ago, initially stating they would monitor pictures – before quickly reneging on this to simply condemn and discourage watermarks rather than police the site itself.
Presumably, this change of heart was prompted by the seller community – or more specifically, the image creators. From a photographer or designer’s point of view, the argument for watermarks is to prevent the misuse of their work and to preserve copyright over them. Also, while watermarks don’t stop images from being copied, but creators can use services like Google Image Search and TinEye to monitor misuse.
Instead of watermarks, an alternative is only to provide low-resolution images – particularly where product photography’s concerned. Another way is to put copyright information in image metadata.
Ultimately watermarks can make images look clumsy and inauthentic – even though they’re designed to make them look more ‘official’. From a user experience perspective, they disrupt the overall image; masking the complete picture. However, for the marketplaces and dating sites themselves, by luring users away from the platform (using embedded contact information) they eliminate associated fees – and if everyone did that, there’d be a major problem.
An ongoing problem for many marketplaces, duplicate listings are something of a grey area in terms of their legitimacy. Essentially while many vendors mean no malice – other than to double their chances of a decent sale – the wider impact is that duplicate ads and images denigrate the browsing and search user experience.
But their troublesome nature doesn’t end there, unfortunately. The use of duplicate images is a tactic long practised by scammers on – as product images on online marketplaces and profile pictures on dating sites.
Duplicate images are commonly used by those selling counterfeit items – often featuring ‘real’ product images taken from genuine sources and repurposed on public marketplaces. Similarly, dating sites are all too aware of ‘catfishing’ and of profiles using images taken from stock photo libraries or even modelling agencies. It’s not just false advertising that users need to be aware of – but romance scammers too.
While duplicate listing scanners exist, most of these are text-based. More sophisticated image detectors do exist, and big marketplaces offer their own detection algorithms too. But many of these are still relatively rudimentary and open to misuse (case in point: Facebook Marketplace which is notoriously easy to ‘hack’).
As a result, many marketplaces are offering greater clarity in terms of how they define duplicates and won’t allow vendors to list the same item in different categories. eBay sternly warns that offenders will see a loss of visibility for their listings. After all, their site’s trust is at stake – which ultimately leads to fewer conversions.
Also, in a similar way to watermarks, duplicate images can also ruin the user experience – confusing customers as to which is the ‘real’ or original example of the product they’re considering buying. And on dating sites, well, there can’t be more than one person with the same profile picture can there? Honesty accounts for a great deal – and people can look very different from one picture to the next – so including a variety of different images is essential for this reason too.
Love or hate the idea, facial recognition technology is increasing in sophistication. It’s already being used in security tech – to do everything from unlocking phones to crossing borders. However, while Facebook might be making leaps and strides in facial recognition, on marketplaces and dating sites, they remain problematic from a content perspective.
As we’ve discussed already, where images of people – especially faces – are concerned, honesty is always the best policy. On dating sites, in particular, users often use images that make them look more attractive – often using different filters to enhance their appearance.
However, when there’s a lot of people in a photograph, it’s often hard to tell who the profile owner is. This has obvious complications on dating sites – where users could be easily misled. They could begin contact with one person thinking they’re another – something that could be disastrous for the user and the dating site – again, because misconceptions can break the trust bond.
Coupled with the proliferation of deep fakes and face/profile image searches and the problem gains another more complex layer – meaning there’s not just a threat to a user’s experience; their safety is at risk too.
In online marketplaces, this isn’t as big a problem, except that the use of people – or more specifically their faces – distracts from the product itself, so vendors should use as few as possible in photography, or not at all if they can help it.
Wherever users can upload their own content, there can be no denying that pornography, nudity, and sex-related images will appear – in both online marketplaces and dating sites.
Where affairs of the heart (or libido) are concerned, while consenting adults are free to share pictures of whatever body parts they like best; for the most part – on public forums and in private chats – it’s unwanted. And when that’s the case; it’s user harassment.
Harassment (of the pictorial and verbal variety) has become entrenched in dating app culture. Largely as a result of male behaviour toward women (check the Instagram account ‘ByeFelipe’ for some prime examples). So, efforts to get rid of it have spawned a whole new wave of female-initiated dating services; such as Bumble.
However, even this doesn’t prevent lewd images from being shared; which is why additional services are needed. Bumble’s Privacy Detector, for instance, which detects nudity, blurs it, and warn users that a picture or video message may be pornographic when it lands in their chat feed.
Anything nudity related is naturally more common on dating sites than marketplaces, but that doesn’t preclude them. Profile photos can often be revealing (which may or may not be ok depending on the site) and of course, as mentioned above, ‘escort’ services may advertise using images that push the boundaries.
The effect? Not keeping users safe from overtly sexual images is a big problem. As mentioned before, it breaks the trust established between user and site. While on dating sites unsolicited nudity is now frequent, that doesn’t make it acceptable. And where online marketplaces are concerned, user-generated content that contains nudity denigrates the site’s reputation.
However, it’s also essential to maintain a balanced view and offer a specific definition of what constitutes nudity on your own site – which might vary depending on the nature of your website.
Picture Of Success
All in all, you’re not going to be able to stop your users from seeing awful content. When users innocently browse a marketplace or look at dating profiles, there’s no guarantee that the images they’ll see will be legitimate, tasteful, or even legal.
What you can do, though, as a site owner is to ensure your site offers the right policies, definitions, and appropriate courses of action. Moderation is crucial to avoid the proliferation of bad images on your site. But it’s no easy task when it relies on user-generated content.
That’s why online content moderation tools are critical to helping online marketplaces and dating sites detect unwanted images and remove them instantly. At Besedo, we combine AI image moderation with human moderation to efficiently tackle the propagation of inappropriate or undesirable images you don’t want on your site.
Ready to find out the online dating trends for 2020? Here’s what industry experts are predicting for the coming year.
2019 is drawing to an end and with that starts a new decade.
It’s hard to remember that in 2010, Tinder didn’t even exist. Ten years later, dating apps have never been so popular, and meeting romantic connections has never been easier thanks to the developments in technology and the maturity of the industry.
Dating trends are popping up all the time, and online dating is getting rid of its taboo and is now universally accepted as a way of meeting new people. With many current and upcoming changes from hyper-niche platforms, video or new legislations, the dating industry is in full swing.
We have turned to experts in the online dating field to figure out what we should be looking out for in the coming year. Here are their expert predictions for the online dating industry in 2020.
What online marketplace trends are we going to see in 2020? Here’s what 8 industry experts predict for the coming year.
2019 is quickly coming to an end, and what an exciting year it has been for online marketplaces!
Marketplaces have been disrupting the way we shop with the rise of the conscious consumer looking for more ways to be sustainable.
As users’ expectations grow and user experience has become highly prioritized, marketplaces have been creative in finding ways to add value and services to their platforms. Convenience has been the keyword for online marketplaces to acquire and retain their customers.
Which trends will shape the marketplace industry in 2020? What can you expect to change in the online marketplace industry in the coming year? We gathered eight predictions from marketplace experts and professionals to see what’s coming up in the industry.
The circular economy is in full swing, and for an excellent reason: with finite natural resources on the planet and the demand for resources exceeding what the earth can regenerate each year, we simply cannot carry on with our current linear production path.
The circular economy aims to transition into consuming less natural resources by reusing, resetting, upgrading and recycling products, giving items we’ve fallen out of love with a chance for another day in a new home.
The resale of used items – an integral part of the circular economy – is booming as people grow more accustomed to buying second hand. Resale has grown 21 times faster than the retail apparel market over the past three years and is on the way to become larger than fast fashion by 2028, according to a thredUP and GlobalData report.
And what better place than online marketplaces for second-hand trade. Indeed, the rise of the conscious consumer has become a perk for marketplaces. With the re-selling of used items, marketplaces are playing a considerable role in the circular economy and its sustainability concerns. In 2018 in France, Le Bon Coin users potentially saved 7.7 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions and 431,992 tons of plastic according to a report by Schibsted and Adevinta.
Buying and selling second-hand items has been favored for numerous reasons. If people can find what they want for less money, they’re likely to purchase that item even if it’s been used. Additionally, the rising awareness surrounding the climate crisis and sustainability issues over the past few years has boosted second-hand selling and buying. Producing less waste and consuming resources responsibly is growing higher in people’s agendas, in turn, increasing the popularity of online marketplaces.
Increased risks for your online marketplace
However, with that rise, comes increased risks for your online marketplace, as more fraudsters will be attracted to your site seeking to deceive your users.
Fraud can jeopardize your user trust and ultimately scare off your customers. In the luxury resale market especially, the sale of counterfeit goods has increased over the years. It’s then essential for online marketplaces to establish strong user trust, particularly in the trade of secondhand items.
In a two-sided marketplace, buyers have to trust that sellers describe the items on sale accurately and that they will eventually receive their goods. In the same way, sellers have to trust that buyers provide payment in good and due form.
You should make sure to protect your user trust and tackle these challenges head-on by putting efficient and accurate content moderation processes in place.
Featuring poor or fraudulent content on your marketplace has a cost. Fraudulent activity on your marketplace can have disastrous effects on your reputation and the trust users have in your platform.
Second-hand is not a fad, and resale is turning to the mainstream. Marketplaces need to find new ways of dealing with fraud as the demand for the second-hand trade grows.
To learn more about how you can protect your users from fraud, have a look at our article about the different types of content moderation we offer to protect your brand.
When Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg recently came under fire for the company’s admittedly tepid approach to political fact-checking (as well as some revelations about just what constitutes ‘impartial press’), it became clear that where content moderation is concerned, there’s still a big learning curve – for large and small companies.
So given that a company like Facebook with all of the necessary scale, money, resources, and influence, struggles to keep on top of moderation activities – what chance do smaller online marketplaces and classified sites have?
When the stakes are so high, marketplaces need to do everything they can to detect and remove negative, biased, fraudulent, or just plain nasty content. Not doing so will seriously damage their credibility, popularity, and ultimately, their trustworthiness – which, as we’ve discussed previously, is a surefire recipe for disaster.
However, we can learn a lot from the mistakes of others and by putting the right moderation measures in place. Let’s take a closer look at the cost of bad content and at ways to prevent it from your online marketplace.
The cost of fraudulent ads
Even though we live in a world in which very sophisticated hackers can deploy some of the most daring and devastating viruses and malware out there – from spearphishing to zero-day attacks – there can be little doubt that the most common scams still come from online purchases.
While there are stacks of advice out there for consumers on what to be aware of, marketplace owners can’t solely rely on their customers to take action. Being able to identify the different types of fraudulent ads – as per our previous article – is a great start, but for marketplace owners, awareness goes beyond mere common sense. They too need to take responsibility for their presence – otherwise, it’ll come with a cost.
Having content moderation guidelines or community that give your employees clear advice on how to raise the alarm on everything from catfishers to Trojan ads is crucial too. However, outside of any overt deception or threatening user behaviors, the very existence of fraudulent content negatively impacts online marketplaces as essentially, it gradually erodes the sense of trust that they have worked so hard to build. Resulting in lowered conversion rates and, ultimately, reduced revenue.
One brand that seems to be at the center of this trust quandary is Facebook. It famously published a public version of its own handbook last year, following a leak of its internal handbook. While these take a clear stance on issues like hate speech, sexual, and violent content; there’s little in the way of guidance on user behavior on its Marketplace feature.
The fact is, classified sites present a unique set of moderation challenges – that must be addressed in a way that’s sympathetic to the content forms being used. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. It’s too easy to assume that common sense and decency prevail where user-generated content is concerned. The only people qualified to determine what’s acceptable – and what isn’t – on a given platform are the owners themselves: whether that relates to ad formats, content types, and the products being sold.
Challenging counterfeit goods
With the holiday season fast approaching, and two of the busiest shopping days of the year – Black Friday and Cyber Monday – just a few weeks away, one of the biggest concerns online marketplaces face is the sale of counterfeit goods.
It’s a massive problem: one that’s projected to cost $1.8 trillion by 2020. It’s not dodgy goods sites should be wary of; there’s a very real threat of being sued by an actual brand for millions of dollars: if sites enable vendors to use their name on counterfeit products: as was the case when Gucci sued Alibaba in 2015.
However, the financial cost is compounded by an even more serious one – particularly where fake electrical items are concerned.
According to a Guardian report, research by the UK charity, Electrical Safety First shows that 18 million people have mistakenly purchased a counterfeit electrical item online. As a result, there are hundreds of thousands of faulty products in circulation. Some faults may be minor; glitches in Kodi boxes and game consoles, for example. Others, however, are a potential safety hazard – such as the unbranded mobile phone charger which caused a fire at an apartment in London last year.
The main issue is the presence of fraudulent third-party providers setting up shop on online marketplaces; advertising counterfeit products as a genuine article.
Staying vigilant on issues affecting consumers
It’s not just counterfeit products that marketplaces need to counter; fake service providers can be just as tough to crack down on too.
Wherever there’s misery, there’s opportunity. And you can be sure someone will try to capitalize on it. Consider the collapse of package holiday giant, Thomas Cook, a couple of months ago – which saw thousands of holidaymakers stranded and thousands more have their vacations canceled.
Knowing consumer compensation would be sought, a fake service calling itself thomascookrefunds.com quickly set to work gathering bank details, promising to reimburse those who’d booked holidays.
While not an online marketplace-related example per se, cases like this demonstrate the power of fake flags planted by those intent on using others’ misfortune to their own advantage.
Similarly, given the dominance of major online marketplaces, as trusted brands in their own right, criminals may even pose as company officials to dupe consumers. Case in point: the Amazon Prime phone scam, in which consumers received a phone call telling them their bank account had been hacked and they were now paying for Amazon Prime – before giving away their bank details to claim a non-existent refund.
While this was an offline incident, Amazon was swift to respond with advice on what consumers should be aware of. In this situation, there was no way that moderating site content alone could have indicated any wrongdoing.
However, it stands to reason that marketplaces should have a broader awareness of the impact of their brand, and a handle on how the issues affecting consumers should be aligned with their moderation efforts.
Curbing illegal activity & extremism
One of the most effective ways of ensuring the wrong kind of content doesn’t end up on an online marketplace or classifieds site is to use a combination of AI moderation and human expertise to accurately find criminal activity, abuse, or, extremism.
However, in some cases, it’s clear that those truly intent on making their point still can find ways around these restrictions. In the worst cases, site owners themselves will unofficially enable and advise users on ways to circumvent their site’s policies for financial gain.
This was precisely what happened at the classifieds site Backpage. It transpired that top executives at the company – including the CEO, Carl Ferrer – didn’t just turn a blind eye to the advertisement of escort and prostitution services; but actively encouraged the rewording and editing of such ads to give Backpage ‘a veneer of plausible deniability’.
As a result of this, along with money laundering charges, and for hosting child sex trafficking ads; not only was the site taken down for good, but officials were jailed – following Ferrer’s admission of guilt for all of these crimes.
While this was all conducted knowingly, sites that are totally against these kinds of actions, but don’t police their content effectively enough, are putting themselves at risk too.
Getting the balance right
Given the relative ease with which online marketplaces can be infiltrated, can’t site owners just tackle the problem before it happens? Unfortunately, that’s not the way they were set up. User-generated content has long been regarded as a bastion of free speech, consumer-first commerce, and individual expression. Trying to quell that would completely negate their reason for being. A balance is needed.
The real problem may be that ‘a few users are ruining things for everyone else’, but ultimately marketplaces can only distinguish between intent and context after content has been posted. Creating a moderation backlog when there’s such a huge amount of content isn’t a viable option either.
Combining man & machine in moderation
While solid moderation processes are crucial for marketplace success, relying on human moderation alone is unsustainable. It’s for many sites just not physically possible to review every single piece of user-generated content in real-time.
That’s why online content moderation tools and technology are critical to helping marketplace owners identify anything suspicious. When combining AI moderation with human moderation, you’re able to efficiently find the balance between time-to-site and user safety; which is what we offer here at Besedo.
Ultimately, the cost of bad content – or more specifically, not moderating it – isn’t just a loss of trust, customers, and revenue. Nor is it just a product quality or safety issue. It’s also the risk of enabling illegal activity, distributing abusive content, and giving extremists a voice. Playing a part in perpetuating this comes at a much heavier price.
This past September, Global Dating Insights (GDI) – the leading source of news and information for the online dating industry – gathered the international dating industry during an engaging conference in London.
With renowned speakers and insightful presentations of more than twenty leading industry-disruptors, the conference tackled some of the industry’s most important questions and exciting foreseeable trends of the future.
The dating industry might be facing some challenges with retention and engagement, but online dating sites are increasingly more creative in retaining customers and improving their user experience continually.
Here is our recap of the GDI Conference in London 2019, and the trends emerging in the near future.
Bringing the online dating world into the real one
Bringing online and offline together with real-life experiences such as members events and marketing campaigns has become an important strategy for many dating sites.
Online dating sites need to keep up with the latest consumer and demographic trends to improve their retention and experience. That is, what their users are seeking. Thus, many sites and apps have gone the route of making their dating apps feel more like a community.
Millennials and Gen Z are authentic experience seekers. From that insight, UK dating app Clikd has found creative ways of engaging their demographic. The company started organizing events to bring together its users. For one night in a venue, people meet 20 fellow users to find their ideal partner and are picked to jet off to a lavish holiday together.
Clikd has also launched its popular marketing campaign ‘the Clikd Summer Internship’, the world’s best internship to find love. The winning applicant is paid to go to 10 dates over 10 weeks and produce content to engage fellow users, as well as many other fancy perks obtained through the internship.
For selective dating site the Inner Circle, according to an interview of co-founder Michael Krayenhoff, offline events help to emphasize stronger brand loyalty from users through deeper connections.
Venturing into real-life experiences is a trend that has proven to work for businesses to strengthen their brands and match their users’ needs.
Engaging users through video
Standing out in the crowded dating industry is no small feat. Users often drift between two or three different dating apps daily, so it is essential for companies looking to overcome fierce competition to improve their user retention.
Video is dubbed to be the next big thing in the dating industry. CEO of location-based app happn, Didier Rappaport has emphasized that video is the significant future development in the industry, and many businesses are going down that route.
He said in an interview: “We need to allow people to hear the voice, to see the mannerisms and understand the person better than just looking at their picture,” adding that happn is working on developments to bring more real life into online dating with video interaction.
Video features are launched as we speak. The Meet Group’s app MeetMe has recently implemented a one-on-one video chat feature to facilitate confident connections and user safety before meeting. Members can start video-chatting with users they have already exchanged with to get a better sense of the person on the other side of the screen.
Expanding platforms’ value propositions, such as including video features, is an upcoming trend that will most likely improve user engagement and usage.
Making apps more human and creating better interactions
According to a study by eHarmony, 70% of American singles are looking for a serious relationship. It is no surprise then that singles are looking for value in dating, and not just mindless swiping anymore.
Many value-driven, and niche, online dating apps have popped up in the last few years and grown exponentially, privileging quality over quantity. It’s not just about the profile picture anymore.
For instance, Neargroup puts personalities before pictures by matching users before they can see each others’ pictures – ending the profile picture swiping craze.
Another example of a value-driven app is Say Allo, also present at the conference. Say Allo is a self-proclaimed ‘relationship app’ for matures singles focusing on compatible connections without wasting time swiping away.
Focusing on quality over quantity, dating app Once follows the trend of slow-dating with only providing their users with one match per day.
Dating fatigue and burnout are now so common; it has become a new challenge threatening retention for apps to tackle. Many companies have taken action against certain online behaviors.
Ghosting – which is the practice of ignoring dates and leaving messages unanswered after speaking to or going on a date with them – has been an issue for singles on dating apps for a while. And it is an issue for apps themselves driving disillusioned users to delete their accounts. To tackle the problem, some companies have launched anti-ghosting features. Dating app Hinge has rolled out a feature dubbed “Your Turn” pushing users to answer their abandoned matches.
Similar strategies are used by apps Bumble and Badoo to avoid the ghosting scourge threatening their retention and usage.
Online dating safety comes first
Another challenge to overcome for dating companies is to increase the number of women on dating sites. Dating sites still have a majority of male users. Some reasons being the fear of bad encounters or inappropriate experiences such as indecent pictures or sexual harassment. According to a study, across the dating services, 18% of participants reported having an issue with another user in the past.
Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd asked in an interview “why is it allowed digitally when it’s not allowed in the streets? People are operating on their phone. We need to keep the internet safe.” To attract women, new ideas are tested to give women more control over their dating experiences, including video interactions.
Contrarily to Chatroulette’s community with its lack of safety and unfortunate experiences reviewed online, dating sites are betting on restricted video features to enhance their community and make their users feel safer – especially women – before meeting their potential love-interest.
The Online Dating Association (ODA) is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to safety and standardizing best practices in the online connection space. At the GDI conference, the ODA emphasized the importance of setting ethical frameworks and standards for the industry as authorities and governments will demand more control and more regulations may come.
This is something online dating sites will need to pay close attention to. Stay ahead of the game and learn more about liability and moderation regulations in our interview with law professor Eric Goldman.
Dating apps thrive not merely by using technology to enhance user experience and retention, but also by creating safety features and guidelines to protect their users and brand reputation.
As any app (or online service) provider knows – in their quest to hit an all-important network effect – it’s not just downloads and user numbers that indicate success. Revenue generation is ultimately needed to ensure longevity.
Dating apps have established some of the most forward-thinking and innovative monetization methods in technology today. But finding a perfectly matching monetization strategy for your app or dating site means adopting a method that reflects its content, style, and user experience.
Luckily, there are lots of different tried and true monetization strategies out there already. Although they broadly fall into two major categories – in which the user pays or a third party pays – there are many different variations.
Here are some ways dating site owners can monetize their operations or improve their current strategy.
Advertising: Great When There’s Scale
Allowing other brands to advertise on your site has been part of the online world since the first sites went up. A natural extension of the broadcast media commercial model, passing the cost onto third party advertisers allows dating sites and apps to offer services for free: albeit for the price of the user’s attention.
Ad formats themselves come in all shapes and sizes – from simple PPC text ads to full-page interstitials, as well as native ads (more consistent with a site’s overall inventory), in-line carousel ads, in-feed content stream ads; among many others. Revenue is either generated via clicks, views, or transactions.
However, dating apps offer higher click-through rates and eCPMs (effective cost per thousand impressions) than games or other types of apps. Despite this, brands still need to work harder to make an impact as consumers have grown weary/immune/resistant to digital advertising.
Where online dating apps and sites are concerned, third party commercial affiliations range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some pairings – like Tinder’s Dominos and Bud Light beer partnerships – might appear odd at first but, considering the importance of food and drink in the dating/socializing scene, actually make perfect sense.
From a business perspective, campaigns like these are a testament to a dating app’s ability to engage certain demographics (usually millennials) at scale; demonstrating the pulling power of a specific dating platform.
However, it’s not necessarily a technique that can be relied on to monetize a digital dating service from its very inception. Other methods are much more effective at doing that – often by selling their features and benefits. But this involves the cost being pushed back onto the user.
Subscriptions: Luring Users Behind The Paywall
Subscriptions ain’t what they used to be. Consumers are a lot more reluctant to part with their cash if they can’t see a genuine benefit for the service they’re from the very outset.
For some, better user experience is enough to sway them to part with a little cash each month. However for others, given that so many ‘free’ dating apps exist (admittedly of varying quality), unless they can clearly see what they’ll be getting for their money, they’ll take their chances elsewhere.
To overcome this, dating sites and apps offer varying degrees of ‘membership’ which can seem a little muddled to the uninitiated. So let’s consider the main contenders.
Firstly there’s the ‘free and paid app versions’ model: in which the free version has limited functionality, meaning the user must upgrade to fully benefit. Stalwarts like OkCupid and Plenty of Fish were among the first pioneers here – but many others champion this model too, including EliteSingles, Jaumo, Zoosk, Grindr and HowAboutDating – offering monthly and annual subscriptions.
The ‘Freemium’ model offers a similar experience – providing basic functionality for free – such as finding and communicating with others. However, other perks are available for an additional cost.
Badoo’s ‘Superpowers’ feature is probably the best known: letting users see who ‘liked’ them and added them to their favorites, as well as giving access to invisible mode, having their messages highlighted – plus they don’t see any ads. In fact, the popularity of Tinder’s ‘Rewind’ feature (taking back your swipe) led the company to start charging for it via it’s Tinder Plus and Tinder Gold packages. Bumble Boost, Hinge’s Preferred Membership, and Happn’s Premium are other scope-widening freemium services worth mentioning too.
A slight variation is the ‘free app with in-app purchases’ model. In addition to greater functionality – like a broader search radius and more daily matches – users can buy virtual and actual gifts and services. For example, Plenty Of Fish lets users digitally buy in-app ‘Goldfish’ credits to send virtual gifts to their potential dates – a folly to break the ice basically.
However, those that don’t want to pay, but are keen to test a few additional dating app perks, can often complete in-app tasks for limited-time access to premium accounts. Users are usually presented with an ‘offerwall’ detailing tasks to complete and the rewards to be reaped. MeetMe’s rewarded videos are a great example of this, as are rewarded surveys which seem to become increasingly common – and were trialed by dating app Matcher (now Dangle) a while back.
Activities like these indicate dating sites’ key asset: their audience data. Given that 15% of Americans use dating services and that the average user dedicates around 8 minutes to every session, the opportunity is real for those that achieve a certain scale.
But you can’t just sell data – can you?
Data Monetization: Insights For Sale
The sale of user data is a big no-no when specific information is involved (remember Cambridge Analytica?). But when the user grants consent and the data remains anonymous, well, that’s a different story.
Companies operating in EU countries need to abide by GDPR regulations or risk severe penalties, and other international data security initiatives, such as the EU-US Privacy Shield Framework are held in high esteem. So how can dating sites use their rich data sources as a revenue generation tool?
The only kind of data that can be sold is non-personal data – with a user’s consent. Even then, the type of data source is restricted to basic parameters: device types, mobile operator, country, screen size – among others.
The good news is that there’s significant demand for all of this data – from market researchers across many different sectors for a range of purposes; including optimizing user experiences and understanding buying choices.
On another positive note, according to one research survey, 95% of respondents are content to use apps that collect anonymous usage statistics.
However, unless your dating app has more than 50,000 daily active users, it won’t offer a large enough pool to draw from; and it will prove difficult to find a buyer for it.
Which Monetization Strategy Works Best?
All things considered, as with many types of online businesses, the greater the combination of monetization methods, the more profit there is to be had. Perhaps that can explain Tinder’s phenomenal global success.
But in isolation, each method has its drawbacks. Advertising only reaps a reward when a service offers scale; otherwise, where’s the value for brands? Conversely, charging users for a new service can be tricky to justify – unless the cost unlocks some additional never-seen-before feature. And without scale, charging marketers for data insights is pretty much impossible.
What is crucial, however, from the very outset, is that dating platforms establish a strong, dedicated user base. This means doubling down on trust and user safety, and finding ways to keep users engaged.
Despite the many positive things about dating sites, for some, the negative connotations persist. While sites and apps are a lot more conscious of preventing these, as with any platform that relies on user-generated content, the risk of users being catfished, shown inappropriate content, or de-frauded is always prevalent.
However, there are lots that digital dating platforms can do to build trust in their platforms and boost conversions. Content moderation is just one area – but it’s one that any dating service looking to expand its user base can’t ignore.
Ultimately there’s no substitute for getting the service right, knowing your users’ wants and needs (and there are many different dating services!), and developing a safe, secure and engaging environment for them to interact in. With these established, and when active usage hits a critical mass, monetization becomes a natural next step.
Just like any other business, online marketplaces also continuously tend to look for new and improved revenue streams to boost their growth. We caught up with Marketplace optimization and growth specialist and founder of the marketplaceplaybook.com, Bec Faye, to hear her take on how marketplaces can monetize their platforms efficiently.
In the interview, we speak about the importance of considering your users’ behavior and experiences when deciding on your monetization strategy, and we explore a successful disruptive monetization strategy that will inspire your inner creativity.
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Emil: Hi, everyone, I’m here with Bec Faye, Marketplace Optimization & Growth Specialist, who is running the marketplaceplaybook.com. Bec, would you like to introduce yourself?
Bec: Hi. It’s really great to be here. As you explained, I specialize in helping marketplaces to really optimize their growth and to be able to work from the UX kind of angle and looking at conventional organization. But in amongst that, I work with a lot of different marketplaces of all different shapes, sizes and stages. I am really looking forward to have a chat today.
Emil: It’s really exciting to have you on. If you haven’t seen before, me and Bec did a webinar as well together around UX design for online marketplaces, which was really valuable. So I’m super happy to have you on board for this interview, as well, around monetization.
Bec: Really great to be back.
Emil: Awesome. Let’s jump straight into it. If we think about monetization strategies for marketplaces, there are many things that you need to consider. But if we can just start with what is monetization for marketplaces, how would you define it?
Bec: I have a couple of thoughts on monetization. I think part of it is obviously how we actually make money from a marketplace, and how do we actually create this piece of technology that’s going to fulfil its purpose. But in a way that we can actually help sustain it as a business or not for profit or whatever shape it happens to be in. But I also think it’s an interesting area where we tend to really focus in on specific trends and the way that people; we always do market monetization in marketplaces. But I think is actually really quite interesting because we see a lot of trends in people going for funding and raising all capital and everything like that. And the marketplace is very much dependent on that. But one of the things I’m really passionate about, exploring over the next two years, is really trying to figure out how do we make marketplaces profitable without necessarily relying on investment quite so much. So it’s what one of my areas of I’m quite passionate about. Sorry, but I think in a nutshell, monetization is really about how do we actually make money? How do we make sure that we’re making something that’s worthwhile that can be sustainable?
Emil: Yes and if you’re a young marketplace as well, like getting the investors on board, there needs to be some plan on how they can make their money back. If you can’t monetize your platform in a right way, then the investments are not going to happen, even to begin with. So for online marketplaces, if you look at different mindset and strategies to implement, there’s so many different alternative business models out there, like commission based selling fees and advertisement subscription. But what would you say, Bec, is important to consider when deciding on a suitable monetization strategy?
Bec: It is a really good question, I think it always comes back to no matter what stage you are in your marketplace. Really understanding the value of your core user group, the value that you’re offering to that user group, what paying for it is solving for them and what you are providing for them and then trying to really distil the value offering and that way basing our monetization around the value, the offering. So it’s going to make our job a lot easy to justify. And it’s also going to mean that people are willing to pay for that. I always say it depends on what side of the market we end up charging and the different structures that we might end up charging. But for me, it always comes back to really ensuring that where we’re providing that value and income associated, the monetization around that typically. One of the exercises I get a lot of early stage marketplaces to do to really prove that the marketplace monetization really work, is trying to create five transactions successfully without actually using the marketplace as a platform.
So to do it manually offsite, if they can create those five transactions manually. They’re saying really if you can prove that you can create these transactions without technology and means and proof, that people are willing to pay at that point in time, you get a lot of really valuable lessons along that journey that allows you to write on that monetization strategy without having to impede on the marketplace as a whole or worrying about technology and things like that. But it’s obviously for early stage marketplaces. The latest stage marketplaces, I think it’s really a matter of trying to figure out why they’re looking at monetization strategies. Is it that they’re looking to add a new revenue streams that business? And if that’s the case, then again, it’s going back to a core users. What value can we offer them? And is there an additional way that we can add revenue to help business in that way? I think we touched on it in the webinar about monetization around how tricky it can be to actually to transform an established marketplace and change that monetization strategy. But if you find ways to add new revenue streams into the business, that could be a way of kind of exploring that.
Emil: You’re right. In the recent webinar that we did around monetization in marketplaces, we spoke about mature marketplaces and well-established global players on how it can be very difficult to change that business model, instead looking at becoming more of an investor and adding revenue streams that way, as well. Just out of curiosity, like regions and geographies, does that really matter? When you look into integrating a new strategy?
Bec: I think it always does, because different regions are always going to have different intricacies about them, whether it’s the currency, whether it’s the exchange rate, whether it’s the culture in the way that that different, different aspects are conceived in that particular culture, for example. So I think it definitely comes into play. That’s where really getting to know your users easier every day, really understanding what it is that drives them, what they’re comfortable with and where they would see the value in your platform.
Emil: It is a good point. You should always look at user behaviour, but what is the user base that you are? What’s your marketplace? Who is the target audience? Who is using your platform? How are they using it? Looking to those different aspects and then you will find the different opportunities. I think you know that the premium listings like that kind of on monetization strategies really comes from that need of people who want to be able to sponsor the content, etc. and these kind of things.
Bec: Exactly. I am a true believer in that your end users are going to tell you what you need to be doing in business. If you are not listening to them, you are making a whole heap of assumptions. I always say with anybody I work with is always getting back to who your users are and listening to them because they are going to tell you the answers.
Emil: Super. If we look at monetization, it feels like things are trending from year to year, there’s a constant development in the marketplaces industry, moving from classifieds to offering more, the full payment solution and the entire offering. So my question is: what is the kind of trending monetization strategies that works in 2019?
Bec: I think, as you just touched on them, one of the big trends that we’re really seeing is the larger marketplaces, those traditional classified spaces trying to get closer and closer to the transaction in the original days and online classifieds. It was very much on listing and then a lot of that transaction happened off technology, basically, along with the real world. When now, they are again going back to that customer journey, really understanding what is that name that they’re selling for they users, for their customers.
For example, when the price of real estate they’re looking at, the original classifieds might be just selling a house. But actually, if we take a step back from that as a whole, lot of stuff that happens in amongst that, there’s things like the need to get financing. There’s the getting the phone and Internet and all of those kind of things connected. And there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that needs to happen around that part of that journey, the customer’s life. So really looking at what that journey looks like and then starting to figure out where they can add more value in, again, adding new revenue streams into that. And it’s thing that we’re seeing time and time again, every base works. Another good example as well, where a base or a trend happening with the tops of these that we use in the marketplaces that we’re using in minor places are using the platform. They realized that there was a lot of people using it for work, so then they started to explore that. And then a baby was born. And there’s another income stream for them. So to me, it felt really that everybody is coming back on this journey and really saying to depict how it’s coming. Get more. Closes the transaction. But how can we add more value as well in the long journey?
Emil: It’s really key for mainly larger mature players to really have that opportunity to both satisfy their users and users by adding these values sort of services. It could be anything from any insurances or delivery and payment solutions. But you offer that complete solution and that also gives not just increase UX, but also actually more revenue streams for yourself. So it’s a win-win in that sense to move in that direction. Out of curiosity, are there any traditional monetization strategies that doesn’t seem to work anymore or are fading out?
Bec: One of the things that probably less than the fading out, but one of the challenges that I’ve seen marketplaces really struggle with, particularly in the early stage, I work with a lot of early stage marketplaces. A lot of them are falling down the tunnel of, they’re in a low frequency marketplace and there in a low value frequency marketplace which means transactions are only happening very rarely for a user. So, for example, one user might only transact with their platform maybe once a year or every six months. That’s only about very low volume. So if you’re taking a ticket, as a percentage of the transaction, they really need a huge scale in order for that to work. And because they’re so close to the business, sometimes can be a little bit hard to see. The fact that they are charging that percentage but get the lifetime value of that customer on the average order value of that customer is so large. It’s just a really challenging space to be in and at scale is really the only option. So this is where I think that I really need to kind of recognize that that’s the case, and if the current shift that around and focus on solving a need that’s around that might actually bring in a higher frequency from that particular customer or a higher value of that transaction. It’s a matter of kind of looking to see what other income streams that can look at. What are the revenue streams can I look at? I think just being mindful of that is something definitely to be considered.
Emil: You touched on a little bit here that you work with a lot of more younger or early stage marketplaces, So I’m going to jump into another question. But feeding off of that, I assume, since you speak to a lot of young early stage companies, marketplaces that you have encountered, a couple of really disruptive sort of out of the box thinking style monetization strategies. Anything that you that you want to share.
Bec: I guess one of the real great things about working with early stage marketplaces is that we can be really inventive and really creative in how we approach monetization. I was working with a client recently, who was in a space where they were very concerned about the fact that they were kind of in the business of matchmaking almost. So they had users that were coming in from one side and the demand side. But it’s very easy for them to form relationships with a supplier, and therefore that relationship could be technically, taken off the platform. Therefore, charging a commission, for example, wasn’t gonna work for them, swinging to really take a step back and just really understand again what the customer journey was like. But really looking at the big picture of what the user was trying to achieve in their particular industry, and by taking that step backward, to identify that there was actually a big need that needed solving, which meant that we could actually really structure a sort of being narrowed in by what was done previously, were able to create more of a disruptive model that would let out that particular marketplace. To then basically bait 10 times the amount, 10 times their revenue that they were then earning from an average order value from that particular customer that was coming through the platform. Then we’re looking at a new way now to which will work out for them buying basically for a single hour. For example, they will be now purchasing bulk hours and then we’re looking into more of a membership type of opportunity which come down the track as well. So suddenly we’ve gone from being worried about the supply and the demand guy off site and platform where we’re losing the transaction to it now actually really increasing and multiplying that revenue stream. Now that’s the marketplace. So it’s kind of combining quite a few different techniques together. But by really understanding what the needs were of that user group, where I would identify this new opportunity, that would mean that we’re basically solving a problem from all angles. Sorry, that’s been really interesting, that experiment we are still running with, but so far the tests have been really positive.
Emil: It is very cool. I know that it can be a big struggle with having conversions like losing out on the actual conversion from your marketplace that you have your buyers and sellers, especially the sellers, I would assume, who are incentivized to leave the marketplace. But here is also, from a moderation standpoint, where it gets dangerous for the user as well. Because you can’t control the conversation and you can’t protect your users, the buyer in that scenario. So if the seller manages to get the conversation off the site, then the chance for a scam, etc. increases significantly. So it’s also like a way to keep protect your users in that sense as well, to be able to keep them on your platform. It’s very interesting. Another way of preventing that as well is adding, like we spoke about value-added services, as monetization strategy. And if you add enough value like OpenTable, or like an Uber, something like that, where you actually can do reservations and book. And the platform itself is so useful for the seller, that can bring down the incentive to actually leave the platform because it adds services that you need.
Bec: Exactly. That’s a really great technique.
Emil: So I think that brings us to the end of today’s interview. So thank you so much, Bec, for taking your time. It’s been really helpful. I hope and I think all the listeners are really happy to hear your tips, tricks and ideas for monetization strategies. If you want to get in touch with Bec, you can reach her on her email on firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to learn more about monetization strategies, check out our webinar that we did on September 17th. And finally, if you want to learn more about content moderation and how we, at Besedo, can help you improve your content quality, and from that side of things, boost your revenue generation. Then don’t hesitate to reach out to me at email@example.com. Thank you, Bec. Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. Take care, guys. Bye.
Bec: Thank you. Bye.
It might sound obvious, but there’s a direct correlation between online marketplace trust and conversion rates.
It’s not hard to see why – after all, people do business with those they know, like, and relate to. But how, as an online marketplace owner, can you establish, build, and maintain user trust?
Let’s take a closer look at the nature of trust online, how it helps improve conversions within online marketplaces and classified sites, and how these businesses can increase user trust.
Defining trust for Online Marketplaces
Trust is complex. It’s part-rational and part-emotional. It’s something that can be earned, lost, reinforced, and rebuilt. It’s an enabler; an empowering force. It’s also tough to define; so let’s be clear about what trust means in relation to online marketplaces and classified sites.
Respected economist, author, and online trust expert, Rachel Botsman, put forward the idea – in one of her TED Talks – that technology and the sharing economy encourages us to place an enormous amount of trust in complete strangers and marketplaces.
While on the surface this may sound counter-intuitive, her assertion that humans constantly take ‘trust leaps’ in the digital world is persuasive. In order to take these leaps, Botsman argues, we need certain reassurances – which is where her concept of a ‘Trust Stack’ comes into play (watch our webinar for more on this).
There are three parts at work in Botsman’s Trust Stack: trust in an idea; trust in a platform; and trust in the other user. Now, it’s easy to presume that online marketplace owners should just be concerned with the second point. However, all three are equally important:
- Trust in an idea is essentially social proof – that the marketplace has a legitimate purpose and regular user base; and that there’s evidence elsewhere that this is the case – testimonials, good PR, social media links etc.
- Trust in the platform is the reassurance that the marketplace is accountable; that the information provided is true, accurate, and designed to benefit the customer; and that there are fail-safes in place to protect their interests.
- Trust in the other user is the confidence that the content others post on a marketplace reflects the actual product they’re selling. They need to know they’re transacting with a real person – and that that person has an equally vested interest.
Ultimately, all three of these layers can be addressed by marketplaces and classified sites – and need to be aligned in order to establish this complete Trust Stack.
But, this is easier said than done when your business operates across multiple countries, has listings in various languages, and has a business model that’s reliant on user-generated content from a myriad of users.
However, there are numerous proactive steps that marketplaces can take to ‘trustproof’ the way they do business – which we’ll now consider.
Building a better basis for Marketplace Trust
Building a solid trust foundation for an online marketplace or classified site involves addressing the entire user experience. Some aspects are more obvious than others, so let’s begin with the most evident.
This is probably what springs to mind immediately when the idea of ‘online trust’ is mentioned, and it is an important consideration. But it’s not just a question of choosing a reputable third party payment partner.
Payment preferences differ across national borders. Digital wallets, credit and debit cards, and cash on delivery are among the many different payment types used by a variety of marketplaces. Providing the secure payment option that your user base feels most comfortable with is a great trust builder – and plays into the wider user experience (more on that below).
Ease of payment is also just as important where trust is concerned. According to a survey, some 70% of users abandon their online shopping carts, and over a quarter (26%) do so because of complicated payment processes – directly affecting marketplace conversion rates negatively.
Policies & Guarantees
Most marketplace users won’t read the small print or the terms and conditions you set. But that doesn’t mean they can be neglected. When something goes wrong, users will immediately start looking to find out where they stand – so make sure your Service Level Agreements, moneyback guarantees, and data privacy policies are clearly labeled.
From a trust perspective, offering total transparency on consumer rights is very important. For example, guarantees – like eBay’s money-back policy – give customers the confidence to purchase on your marketplace; like a safety net.
Another great example is online shoe retailer, Zappos, which offers a ‘no questions asked returns policy – for unused items – up to a year after purchase. This (and other aspects of Zappos’ exemplary customer service) has become something of a ‘feather in the cap’ for the business. Putting the customer first is a key component of building a solid trust foundation.
User experience – or UX as it’s more commonly known – might be a bit of a technology buzzword at the moment, but for a very good reason. Ensuring that users easily and safely can find the information, products, and services they’re searching for has to be a priority for any marketplace owner.
Everything from the way a marketplace is designed, the content, the icons deployed, and the ease of navigation from one page to the next should be considered core parts of a site’s overall user experience too.
But how does UX relate to trust? Thinking back to Botsman’s Trust Stack, accessibility, user-friendliness, and online safety are crucial components in both the first (trust in the idea) and second (trust in the platform) layers.
Overall, UX is about reassuring users that they’ve made the right decision – at every point in their journey. Any UX action that enhances user trust helps smoothen the user journey towards conversion.
Safety and security doesn’t just mean making sure the right payment processes are in place. Sure, money is a huge part of the security equation; but even more important is ensuring users aren’t subjected to fraudulent, criminal, or unwanted sexual, racist, hatred, or violent content on your online marketplace.
Sadly, scams are all too prevalent online (see our previous blog): from catfishing to identity theft; as well as fake ads selling everything from high-value items at low prices, to seasoned classifieds scammers posting genuine ads in bulk to disguise fake ones.
This is where a clear content moderation policy and strategy can pay dividends. For example, setting clear rules for what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ content look like on your platform is a great place to start – and that information should always be clearly communicated to your users.
In addition to preventing criminal activities and inappropriate material, content moderation is also crucial for ensuring overall site hygiene. For example, it’s important to ensure that listings are placed in the correct category and that imagery used accurately reflects the descriptions given. In a study on classifieds listings we conducted a few years ago, we discovered that on average 15% of the listings are posted in the wrong category every month.
Similarly, employing dedicated moderators to ensure consistency and identify anomalies is now standard practice for many online marketplace owners. However, when the scale of UGC becomes too much for a manual moderation team to manage alone, there are moderation technologies out there (like ours!) that use AI and machine learning to moderate and approve content. By implementing automated moderation, be it filters or AI moderation, from the very beginning, your marketplace is equipped to handle the increased volumes as you grow.
Marketplace Trust & Conversions
As you have discovered; a great deal needs to be addressed in order to get trust right. That’s why it’s important to keep the end result in mind: creating safe online experiences that increases conversions and sales. But what overall impact does trust have on a marketplace’s success?
Again, looking at our user study on classifieds, several key stats give us an indication:
- 100% of the participants found irrelevant items in their search results
- 75% of participants found duplicate posts
As mentioned above, anomalies don’t play out well from a trust perspective. They not only cause confusion, but they also demonstrate to users that a site isn’t what it claims it is which can diminish their trust levels.
We also discovered that:
- Only 20% would buy the product in an ad with poor description and 73% were unlikely to return to the site: compared to 56% and 37% for a good listing.
In a similar way, a lack of clarity in the listing itself does little to inspire buyer confidence. However, the most telling stat from our study nicely summarizes the link between trust and conversions:
- 75% who saw a scam on a site said they would not return
It stands to reason that you can do a great deal to ensure your marketplace works well, is fast, reliable, and well-designed. You could also spend hours perfecting your UX, onboarding the right payment partners, and ensuring your customer service is top-notch. But if your site doesn’t exercise enough caution from a fraudulent and poor content perspective, the trust foundations you’ve worked so hard to build can quickly crumble.
This is the risk you take when the majority of your sales activity is driven by peer-to-peer interactions and user-generated content (UGC). It’s a delicate balance and can be tricky to get right. But done correctly, online marketplaces can propel their businesses to huge success.
However – it’s always worth remembering that while trust can take a long time to build, it can be lost incredibly quickly.
Want to find out more about building trust in your online marketplace? Take a closer look at our ‘Trust Stack Checklist’. If you have any queries about online safety and content moderation, please get in touch with our team.
The fraud landscape is continually shifting with fraudsters’ methods growing more sophisticated by the day. With cybercrime profits rising to $1.5 trillion last year, scammers are getting increasingly creative. Fraudsters are always improving on their deceptive and lucrative scamming methods alongside the continuous development of the Internet.
Let’s have a closer look at some of the most sophisticated scams surfacing on the Internet currently.
Fake website scams
Scammers might be getting more elaborate in their techniques, yet they take more precautions than ever before to avoid being exposed and caught by the authorities.
A current trend making the headlines involves scammers setting up fake websites to replicate reputable online stores or marketplaces while carefully executing their scams.
A news story broke out in Spain earlier this year and is considered to be the largest cyber-scam in the history of the country. A 23-year old, along with his accomplices, managed more than 30 fraudulent websites generating an income amounting to an estimated 300,000 € per month.
The fraudsters sold mainly consumer electronics by directing potential buyers to their own fraudulent pages which looked like replicas of reputable websites using companies’ logos and names to dupe users.
To avoid suspicion from the authorities, these sites would only stay live for a few days while being intensely advertised on search engines and social media before disappearing into thin air. The aim was to attract as many potential customers as possible in the shortest amount of time.
Victims were asked to send bank transfers for their orders, but of course, the goods would never arrive. The money received would be deposited into bank accounts set up by mules recruited to transfer money illegally on behalf of others. The scammers then only needed to withdraw the money at cashpoints.
Another technique used by fraudsters plays on the fact that most of us have been warned to check for secure websites when browsing the web. The presence of “https” and the lock icon are supposed to indicate that the network is secure, and users can share their data safely. However, this can be easily replicated. By using those security symbols, scammers make it easier for them to fool potential victims.
Fake website scams, also popping up on sharing economy websites such as Airbnb, shows that since people have become warier of online scams, fraudsters have taken their methods to the next level of sophistication.
Romance mule scams
Online dating sites have been one of romance scammers’ preferred hunting grounds to find their next victim.
The FBI’s online crime division recently flagged an alarmingly growing trend in the romance scam department. Online dating scammers have expanded their romance scam strategies by adding a new dark twist to it and taking advantage of their victims in a whole new way. This dating scam turns love-seekers into unwittingly recruited criminals, also known as ‘money mules’.
Fraudsters, under the guise of a relationship, are using online dating sites to recruit their next victim and dupe them into laundering stolen money.
Here’s how they work. The scammers, pretending to be American or European citizens living or working abroad, start grooming their victims for several months by establishing a supposedly trustworthy relationship with them. They then proceed to have their victim act as a financial middleperson in a variety of fraudulent activities. There are many ways victims can unwittingly help fraudsters. For instance, they can print and post packages or letters often containing counterfeit checks, or in other cases pick up money at Western Union and forward it to another place. They could even open a bank account under the pretense of sending and receiving payment directly, except that these accounts, unknowingly, are then used to aid criminal activities.
A study estimates that 30% of romance scam victims in 2018 have been used as money mules.
Indeed, romance scam victims are the perfect mules for these sorts of frauds. Blindly in love, victims will not doubt their lovers’ intentions and likely never steal the money or ask for anything in exchange for their services, unlike professional fraudsters.
This romance mule scam makes it complicated for local authorities to follow the money, and even if the victims get caught, they do not know the actual identity and location of the scammers. Tracking the fraudsters’ movements becomes an intricate or impossible task.
Romance mule victims often do not know they are a part of these fraud schemes or criminal activities until it’s too late. Despite the victims not losing any money, the FBI warns that they might face legal or financial consequences for participating in such a scheme.
The Telegraph reported a story about a 61-year-old British man who was tricked by fraudsters to fund terrorists in this exact way. He believed he was corresponding with a wealthy businesswoman he met on an online dating site. The woman claimed she needed her money in the UK so she could pay her European employees. The man would then send checks on her behalf, becoming inadvertently and unknowingly part of a fraud scheme.
Phishing scams are very well-known, however a variation, the ‘impersonation scam’ has boomed over the past few years impacting both users’ online safety and companies’ reputation.
These phishing emails might seem completely genuine as they look nearly identical to those of reputable and reliable websites, including Google or Apple, and often end up bypassing spam filters. Like many fraud schemes, impersonation scams are based on trust.
Last year, the popular streaming service Netflix was the target of an email phishing scam in Ireland which was sent to thousands of subscribers on the pretext of a maintenance and verification issue. In a similar way to the fake website scams previously mentioned, these malicious emails, looking like perfect replicas of Netflix emails featured a link to update credit card information or login credentials. However, the link did not direct users to the Netflix website but to a site managed by scammers.
Scams often target popular brands with a large user-base to lure subscribers into giving out personal information. Not only is this dangerous for the customer, but it also threatens brands’ reputation.
Staying ahead of the scammers
With fraudsters persistently refining their scamming techniques, companies must always be one step ahead in the prevention of these scams to protect their users and keep them safe on their site.
Marketplace leakage, which we wrote about in a previous article, refers to losing your users’ from operating on your platform and continue their conversations beyond your site’s security measures. This technique of luring users away from your site is used in the scam examples mentioned in this article, and dramatically increases the risk of your users being scammed. To ensure the safety of yours users, online marketplaces need to keep interactions on their platforms by preventing the display of personal details and hidden URLs.
Marketplace leakage can be avoided by improving your content moderation efforts. By ensuring accurate automated moderation you can instantly spot and prevent any content aimed at drawing users away from your platform.
To learn more about setting up efficient automated moderation filters to protect your users, check out our Filter Creation Masterclass.