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Match Group CEO Bernard Kim on romance scams: “Things happen in life”

Jim Axelrod, Sheena Samu, Andy Bast, Matthew Mosk: April 28, 2024, CBS News

The CEO of the nation’s largest online dating company told CBS News that his company cares deeply about protecting its customers, though his response for those who have lost their life savings to overseas romance scammers, was more nuanced: “Things happen in life.”

“Look, I mean, things happen in life,” said Bernard Kim, the CEO of Match Group, when asked how he would address his customers who had been scammed. “That’s really difficult. I have a tremendous amount of empathy for things that happen, but I mean, our job is to keep people safe on our platforms; that is top foremost, most important thing to us.”

Kim spoke in response to questions stemming from a yearlong CBS News investigation into the widening threat posed by overseas-based criminals who managed to steal more than $1 billion last year from victims they have wooed into online romances. The investigation is the subject of a CBS Reports documentary that streams on the CBS News app and CBSNews.com beginning at 9 p.m. ET Sunday, April 28.

Senior U.S. law enforcement officials told CBS News the scams are not a new problem — but they have been supercharged by the easy access that con artists have to vulnerable, lonely Americans, who go looking for companionship on social media and dating apps.

“We see from 2017 to 2023 is when we had the sharp increase in romance frauds,” said James C. Barnacle Jr., the financial crimes section chief for the FBI. Asked what changed, Barnacle replied: “The proliferation of the dating sites.”

The cases, federal officials report, have ensnared tens of thousands of victims — many of whom are too embarrassed to report the crime. The range of victims has broadened to include younger, wealthier and better educated people who go online in search of partners. By some estimates, as many as 40% of the victims are men.

Match Group, which operates an array of popular dating websites and apps, says it has expanded its security posture and invests more than $125 million a year to protect customers. The company says it succeeds in removing 96% of fraudulent accounts within a day.

The company disputes an allegation the Federal Trade Commission leveled in a 2019 lawsuit, which claimed the agency’s independent review of data from 2013 to 2018 showed as many as 25 to 30% of profiles on the flagship website, Match.com, were opened in order to commit fraud. In defending against the lawsuit, Match Group argued that it did not believe the FTC claim had merit and that it was not legally responsible for the interactions between scammers and their victims because of a broad immunity law that protects internet platforms from legal action.

In ruling on the case, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade wrote that the provision known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act granted web-based service providers, like Match, immunity from liability for content posted by third parties on their sites. The judge dismissed the portion of the FTC case that tried to hold Match Group responsible for fraud activity on their platforms.

Last month, Match Group hired Yoel Roth, the former head of trust and safety for the company then known as Twitter, to take on the role at the online dating site. On LinkedIn, Roth said, he first took an interest in what the industry calls trust and safety 15 years earlier, “because the then-new world of dating apps felt like the Wild West.”

“It’s truly a dream come true to get to roll up my sleeves and work to protect the millions of people making connections on our apps worldwide,” Roth said.

Kim told CBS News the company has sought to bulk up its protections for customers out of a recognition that doing so is “existential to our business.”

“It is the first and foremost top priority for us as an organization,” Kim said. “We’re working really, really hard every single day to make sure that people are authentic.”

stayconnectedadmin

The mission at FAST is to increase public awareness of financial exploitation with the goal of mitigating risk of exploitation and protecting our state’s vulnerable populations.

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