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Visitors to Colombia warned over dating apps after eight US deaths in two months

by: Luke Taylor
Posted: Jan 14, 2024

Foreign visitors to Colombia should take serious caution when using dating apps after a spate of suspicious deaths in the South American country, the US embassy in Bogotá has warned.

In the last two months of 2023, eight US citizens died in the city of MedellĂ­n, in incidents involving drugging or suspected murder. Several of the cases were linked to dating apps, according to a state department security alert on Wednesday.

“Numerous US citizens in Colombia have been drugged, robbed, and even killed by their Colombian dates,” the embassy said.

A growing number of US citizens were lured to bars, hotels and restaurants through applications like Tinder before being drugged and robbed, the embassy warned. Many of the crimes go unreported as victims are often too embarrassed to notify the police, it added.

The number of thefts committed against foreign visitors to Colombia also surged 200% in the third trimester of 2023 compared with the previous year and violent deaths of foreign visitors increased 29%, the embassy said.

Colombian gangs sometimes use the drug scopolamine, derived from nightshade plants and known as burundanga, to incapacitate their victims before accompanying them to their apartment where they clean out their possessions, or to an ATM where they withdraw cash from the victim’s bank account.

Burundanga is found throughout the Andes and is used in up to 50,000 cases a year, according to some estimates.

The odorless drug is easy to slip into people’s drinks and once administered can leave its victims unconscious for 24 hours with no memory of the drugging.

In 2023, MedellĂ­n saw a growing number of reports of burundanga robberies in which foreign tourists or remote workers died after receiving an overdose of the drug.

In 2022, an American family crowdfunded the return of the body of US citizen Paul Nguyen after the 27-year-old did not return to his Airbnb after going on a Tinder date. Nguyen’s body was found two days later next to a rubbish skip with no phone or wallet.

Apps like Tinder and Bumble are an increasingly preferred tool for Colombian gangs to find and lure their victims, say crime experts.

Before, local gangs would typically wait for a drunken target trying to get a taxi outside a bar but now they are now more proactive, selecting their victims online and then inviting them to a date, says Andrés Nieto, a crime and security expert in Bogotá.

“Often the gangs employ beautiful women with alluring features to lure in men,” Nieto said.

The US embassy said foreigners should follow a series of steps listed in its press release to avoid being targeted through dating apps.

“US citizens should be vigilant, maintain heightened situational awareness, and incorporate strong personal security practices into their activities,” it said.

The post, Visitors to Colombia warned over dating apps after eight US deaths in two months first appeared on The Guardian.

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