João Eleutério da Silva, a 51-year-old man from São Paulo, has changed his dating habits on Tinder over the past year and a half. He’s afraid of becoming another victim of the recent spate of kidnappings, money transfer scams, and even homicides — all of which start by luring men like him on dating apps. So, when his Tinder match, a woman decades younger than him, showed intense interest but refused to meet in public, he became suspicious. “The offer [of company] was too easy,” da Silva told Rest of World. “I didn’t feel safe and ended up not following up with the conversation.”

His behavior is not unwarranted: Police statistics show that nine out of 10 kidnappings in São Paulo in the past year have occurred after a date was arranged through Tinder and similar apps. According to Eduardo Bernardo Pereira, a police officer from the São Paulo anti-kidnapping division, men like da Silva — ranging from 30 to 65 years old — are the main targets. The fear over what have become known as “Tinder robberies” has left thousands of Brazilians on dating apps to devise their own safety measures. Rest of World spoke to three current users of dating apps, all of whom confirmed that their behavior on these apps had changed drastically in recent months. They now rigorously verify their date’s identity on other social media platforms and insist on meeting in public places, cutting conversations short when they don’t feel safe.

“I get suspicious … when women that are much younger than me and wearing very little clothing in the photos make forward propositions,” said da Silva. “If I am 51 and she is 23, how can I not think I am being catfished for a possible robbery?”

The rise in scams has coincided with the widespread adoption of two forms of technology: dating apps and mobile payment. A combination of recent factors has made men particularly vulnerable to this form of scam in Brazil. Criminals use fake dating app profiles to lure unsuspecting targets to a private place with ease, and then take their money using PIX — an instant QR payment method used by 67% of Brazilians. Criminals have found they can use PIX to extract large quantities of cash from the victims they scam using apps like Tinder.

According to Gustavo Torrente, professor of cybersecurity at Faculdade de Informática e Administração Paulista (FIAP), a technology education center in São Paulo, criminals consistently follow this same pattern to devastating effect.

Rest of World reached out to Tinder and Grindr for comment on what they were doing to safeguard their users from these scams, but did not receive an answer by the time of publication.

9 out of 10 The proportion of kidnappings in São Paulo that originated from a dating app.

For many Brazilians, the popular PIX app is a fast and efficient mode of payment. It is this very efficiency and ease of use that have made it the perfect tool for these sorts of scams. Though the Central Bank of Brazil categorically states each transaction is completely traceable, authorities still need additional corroborating evidence — say, CCTV footage — to be able to confirm that any given transaction was the result of coercion. This is why Tinder scammers are not only adamant about meeting potential victims in quiet and secluded areas, but also take extra precautions, such as using bank accounts that don’t belong to them, to quickly distribute the money and make traceability even harder, Fabio Assolini, head of research at Kaspersky Latin America, a cybersecurity company, told Rest of World.

Although reports and rumors surrounding criminal modus operandi have come to be known as “Tinder robberies,” Torrente said the phenomenon was not exclusive to a single dating app, or limited to heterosexual men. Users on Grindr, mostly used by the LGBTQ+ community, have also reported growing distrust while using the app, though these sorts of threats are not necessarily new to them, said Gemma Gibson, a sociologist at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, who has researched gender dynamics across online communities.

“Although there has been a rise in the violence aimed at heterosexual men via dating apps, the safety protocols associated with online dating will not necessarily be new to men who fit under the wide umbrella term of ‘queer,’” Gibson told Rest of World. “Violence, in this sense, is still very much gendered … For many [heterosexual men], it is the first time they have to consider [having security protocols].” 

“The risk of being on those apps is enormous. I’ll probably keep using them but I no longer expect them to change my life.”

The target demographic of criminals generally comprises men across various age groups and sexual preferences, with threats and fake seduction tactics employed in equal measure. But although the “lightning kidnappings” — a term used to describe the brief kidnapping of a victim who is allowed to go as soon as they’ve been extorted — have become known as the main form of Tinder scams, there are other modes of coercion being used across dating apps. 

Rodrigo Souza, who uses Grindr in São Paulo, told Rest of World he’s never fallen victim to a scam or kidnapping because he is “suspicious about everything.” He said that recently, criminals had tried to coerce him by pretending to be the police and claiming they had proof he had had a relationship with an underage boy. It happened after he shared his phone number with a match on Grindr. They demanded $1,000 to not proceed with the supposed charges. 

When a scam takes the form of seduction, the purpose is often to lure a potential victim into a private and secluded place, said Pereira, the anti-kidnapping officer. He warned that while many men had clearly adopted greater precautions while dating, there were still gaps in basic care that left them vulnerable.

For Franco Ribeiro, a Tinder user in Juiz de Fora, a smaller city in southeastern Brazil, disappointment is the main feeling the Tinder scam saga has left him with. He is disappointed that the onus to keep safe has fallen on him — rather than the apps or the police — and that, as other men’s best dating years flit past, they must now give up on promising prospects in the name of safety.

“The risk of being on those apps is enormous,” he told Rest of World. “And that adds to the fact that it’s really hard to find worthwhile people on them anyway … I’ll probably keep using [Tinder] but I no longer expect it to change my life.”