What can we learn from the Westminster dating app scandal?

It's a timely reminder to be alert for potential scams.

What can we learn from the Westminster dating app scandal?
Photo by BRUNO CERVERA / Unsplash

Hitting the headlines in the UK is a dating app scandal at the heart of the country's parliament.

William Wragg, a politician, has admitted sending the personal phone numbers of numerous colleagues to someone he connected with on a gay dating app, because they were blackmailing him.

First elected in 2015, Wragg is the member of parliament representing the constituency of Hazel Grove – near Manchester. He’s a member of the Tory party – the conservative party that currently forms the government in the UK.

According to Wragg’s explanation, he started chatting to someone on a gay dating app and shared intimate photos of himself. The person he was chatting to then started asking for the contact numbers of Wragg’s parliamentary colleagues.

Wragg claimed he was “scared” because the person he had been chatting with had “compromising things on me” and they “wouldn’t leave me alone”.

“They would ask for people. I gave them some numbers, not all of them. I told him to stop. He’s manipulated me and now I’ve hurt other people…” said Wragg.

Wragg publicly identifies as a gay man so it appears that the only leverage that the blackmailer had on Wragg was whatever the politician had shared via the dating app.

The story has emerged because a number of people within parliament have reported receiving unsolicited messages that appear to be an attempted ‘honey trap’ scheme – a term used to describe using sexual or romantic relationships for personal, political or monetary gain.

“I got chatting to a guy on an app and we exchanged pictures…” explained Wragg. “We were meant to meet up for drinks, but didn’t. Then he started asking for numbers of people. I was worried because he had stuff on me. He gave me a WhatsApp number, which doesn’t work now. I’ve hurt people by being weak. I was scared. I’m mortified. I’m so sorry that my weakness has caused other people hurt.”

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons speaker, has advised that the parliamentary security department is looking into the matter. So far, it doesn’t appear that Wragg will face any consequences for his actions – he hasn’t been suspended by the Tory party. Wragg had previously announced that he would not seek reelection when then next general election is held.

How to spot an online dating scammer

We’re at our most vulnerable when we’re looking to make a connection with other people – when we’re looking for affection, when we’re looking for sex.

Unfortunately, online dating platforms attract fraudulent activity.

Online dating operators have systems in place to try and protect users as much as possible from fraudulent activity, but nothing is foolproof. You have to keep your wits about you.

How do I tell if an online dating profile is fraudulent?

There’s no hard and fast way to do this – but there are a number of tell-tale signs that you should be alert to.

If you start chatting with someone and they almost immediately ask for your email, don’t give it to them. Same applies if they want to immediately shift the conversation to WhatsApp. Keep the conversation in the dating app until you’re confident you’re dealing with a real person.

If the photo looks like it’s been shot by a professional photographer, it’s probably a fake. If they can’t send you additional photos of themselves, this raises alarm bells.

If they haven’t filled in any of the bio fields, that would make you question what they’re hiding.

If they’ve filled in their bio fields but it doesn’t feel very authentic. That would raise a red flag.

If you’re chatting with someone, and they ask you to send them money, don’t. Even if it sounds like they really need it – maybe they’ve got medical bills, or a sick grandfather, or some other really compelling story. Even if you’ve been chatting with them for quite a long time and you feel like you’ve established a rapport with them. If the money is to buy a ticket to come and see you – they won’t show up. Do not send money to strangers on the internet.

Generally, if something feels too good to be true then it probably is. Trust your gut-instincts – if you think you might be chatting with a scammer, put an end to that conversation.

What should I do if I think I’ve been contacted by a fraudulent online dating profile?

Most dating platforms will have a Report function.

It’s a good idea to report anything you think looks fraudulent – this will generally put the suspect profile in front of an employee of the dating platform – they can review it, investigate it, and suspend the account if necessary.

You should also use the Block function to prevent that profile from contacting you in the future. Don’t waste your time or energy on profiles that you think might be fraudulent. Focus on authentic people that you have a connection with.

 Connect with women near you on GaydarGirls.com