Crimes related to online hookups have increased almost fourfold over the last five years, a new survey out of the UK reveals. People using Grindr, Tinder, and other popular apps now are 382% more likely to be the victim of a crime than they were in 2011, when many sites were still in their infancy.
Only 140 dating-app crimes—including robbery, battery and sexual assault—were reported to police six years ago. By 2016, that that number soared to 676. (In all, 2,054 offenses connected to online dating were reported over the five-year span.)
Last year the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed a 600% increase in app-related sexual assaults alone since 2014.
While app-related crimes aren’t tracked the same way in the U.S., there’s evidence the problem is on the rise here, too.
In 2014, a Seattle man shot two men he met on Grindr after luring them out to a gay bar. That same year the Deputy Attorney General of Delaware was charged with sexually assaulting a minor he met through the app. With gay men significantly more likely to meet partners online, they’re also more vulnerable.
The FBI does tracks online-dating fraud and sexual exploitation, both of which are on the rise.
The spike could be related to better reporting and tracking, and to the increasing popularity of online dating in general. And as the apps become more ubiquitous, criminals are becoming more sophisticated—and users more unguarded.
But as the NCA notes, the stats are most likely underreported: Only 17% of all sexual assault crimes, app-related or otherwise, are reported to authorities. And people who do report assaults and other crimes may be too embarrassed to tell officials they met the perpetrator online. In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated two out of three sexual assaults go unreported, so even if we did track reported crimes, it wouldn’t tell the whole story.
To help keep users safe, some apps offer safety tips to users: Grindr for example, encourages members to protect their identities, always tell a friend where you’re going, and to have the initial meeting in public.
“Grindr is committed to creating a safe environment through a system of digital and human screening tools to help its users connect and thrive,” said a company spokesperson. “While we are constantly improving upon this process, it is important to remember that Grindr is an open platform.”