US Embassy warns foreigners of using Dating Apps in Colombia

Illustration of dating App/AI generated

In response to a series of arrests involving young women accused of drugging and robbing foreign men they met on dating apps in Colombia’s major cities, the United States Embassy has issued a formal warning, urging citizens to exercise extreme caution when navigating the South American country’s dating scene.

The emergency advisory comes amidst an alarming increase in suspicious deaths, including eight US citizens who lost their lives in Medellín during the final two months of 2023. The deaths, directly linked to encounters facilitated by dating apps, including Tinder, prompted the US Embassy to highlight the urgency of their warning. “Numerous US citizens in Colombia have been drugged, robbed, and even killed by their Colombian dates,” stated the US Embassy. “A growing number of US citizens were lured to bars, hotels, and restaurants through applications like Tinder before being drugged and robbed.”

The official statement calls for foreign visitors to exercise serious caution when using dating apps, citing a surge in violent incidents and deaths associated with such encounters. The advisory, issued by the US Department of State, emphasizes the importance of vigilance, heightened situational awareness, and the incorporation of robust personal security practices during activities. “US citizens should be vigilant, maintain heightened situational awareness, and incorporate strong personal security practices into their activities,” the advisory continues.

Criminal gangs operating in Colombia, many involving Venezuelans, among them Tren de Aragua, increasingly use dating apps to lure victims, extracting personal information for extortion and kidnapping.

Data from the Tourism Observatory of the District Personnel of Medellín reveals a 29% increase in violent deaths of foreign citizens in the last quarter of 2023 compared to the same period the previous year. Several US tourists were among the victims, as noted by the Embassy. These figures coincide with a rise in complaints from various Colombian cities. “Over the last year, the Embassy has seen an increase in reports of incidents involving the use of online dating applications to lure victims, typically foreigners, for robbery by force or using sedatives to drug and rob individuals.”

The Embassy acknowledges an uptick in reports of incidents involving online dating applications, citing examples where victims had their electronic devices stolen, containing crucial evidence of communication with assailants. Not all victims, however, used dating platforms, preferring to make hook-ups in popular clubbing zones such as Medellín’s Parque Lleras and Bogotá’s Zona T.  In one specific case, however, in 2022, the return of the body of US citizen Paul Nguyen, found dead two days after a Tinder date in Medellín, had to be crowded-funded by relatives.

A more recent case involves the violent stabbing on November 11, 2023, of 55-year-old communications specialist Hewett Jeffrey Hutson. Hutson was found dead in his Medellín Airbnb with more than 20 stab wounds. Artist and lecturer Tou Ger Xiong was discovered with stab wounds in mid-December, hours after meeting a woman who later demanded a $2,000 ransom. The Embassy noted cases where victims, such as Johny Jerome and Phillip Ryan Mullins, were found lifeless in hotel rooms under suspicious circumstances.

In addition to the criminal threats posed by dating apps for heterosexual and gay men (Grindr and Bumble), the advisory warns that “burundanga,” an odorless drug also known as scopolamine, is frequently used to spike drinks in bars and taverns. This drug derived from the Datura Stramonium plant renders victims unconscious for 24 hours with no recollection of being drugged.

In Bogotá, the Metropolitan Police reported last year over 1,600 cases of scopolamine in robberies and disappearances across the city. Medellín, that same year, also saw a growing number of reports of burundanga robberies “in which foreign tourists or remote workers died after receiving an overdose of the drug,” reads the Embassy statement.

In its comprehensive emergency warning, the US Embassy also outlines specific actions for foreigners to consider when using dating apps:

  • If meeting with a stranger, you should strongly consider meeting only in public places and avoiding isolated locations, such as residences or hotel rooms, where crimes are most likely to occur.
  • If inviting an individual that you just met to your residence or hotel room, speak to your door attendant/concierge beforehand and establish a policy as to what information your new visitor should provide before being authorized entry (photo of identification, etc.) and what process should be followed when your visitor departs.
  • Tell a friend or family member of your plans, including where you are going, details of the person you are meeting, and the app you used to meet them.  Victims who are targeted via online dating applications tend to have their electronic devices stolen which often contain all evidence of communication with the assailants.
  • Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.  Victims of crime who resist robbery are more likely to be killed.
  • Trust your instincts – if something does not feel right, do not hesitate to walk away from a situation.

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