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Online Dating Scams: Things You MUST Know To Protect Yourself

Once upon a time, finding true love meant messages sent via pigeons, eloping on horseback, and long drawn out balls with accompanying dances. Today, it’s literally available at the click of a button!! Or is it really that simple? Recent research shows that it is just as easy to find your soul mate as it is for someone else to steal your identity – all thanks to online dating scams!

online dating

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The current online dating scene

The recent years have seen a mushrooming of online dating websites and apps, since’s well known launch 20 years ago. The stigma online dating carried so far seems to be disappearing, with only 21% Americans equating online dating to being ‘desperate’ according to surveys by Pew Research. And even though online dating seems to be a ‘thing’ for the younger population, research finds that the 50-plus crowd is very active online, usually being single as a result of divorce or death of a spouse. Most of the popular dating websites report a higher concentration of female users, and most websites have detailed questionnaires and algorithms to find that elusive perfect match.

Suggested read: 9 tips to avoid having a bad experience on an online dating site

Navigating an online dating platform

While online dating comes with its ease and convenience, it also comes with its own set of problems. First of all, deciding which website or app to go with itself is a big choice, since there are so many out there, each with their own algorithms and payment structures. Finding a prospective profile is no small job either, considering the sheer number of users on each website/app. It’s a world that’s super connected and all the information overload can be overwhelming, especially to a first timer.

The new world of online scamming

There’s something else a first timer of online dating should be wary about – online dating scams. Yes, internet dating scams are on the rise, and most of them appear to be run out of countries in Africa. An online dating scam can be for all sorts of purposes, depending upon who is running the scam. There are entire teams who work on this, cheating lonely and vulnerable people who are just looking for some love and companionship.

online dating scam

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According to the FBI, most of the scammers are men, probably because most of the people who register on online dating sites are women. Scams usually work in this way: The scammer contacts his victim via a dating website and starts chatting and mailing, initially casually and slowly getting more intimate. They often send gifts or flowers to win the other person’s heart. At some point in time they spin tales about certain hardships which need money to be resolved. The result is a heartbroken and swindled woman, who trusted the wrong person.

But dating scams aren’t always about money. They are also about stealing a person’s credentials or identity, credit card info or passwords. Some scammers are just plain creeps who are looking for their next prey to stalk. Then there are those looking for illegal entries and asking you to get them a visa. There are also serious scammers who are also dealing with smuggling or drugs and ask you to pick up a parcel which is ‘stuck in customs’. Some of the apps themselves have security issues; IBM security officials say that 26 of 41 dating apps on Android had ‘medium to high severity’ security risks.

How to spot an online dating scam

Scammers are smart, cunning people with advanced technical skills, but you can be smarter. Be very cautious as soon as  you receive an invitation for a contact, and keep your eyes and ears open for any of the following telltale signs of an online scammer.

Suggested read: 12 dating red flags you need to be wary of

1. Too perfect

online dating

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Remember the saying, ‘if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t’? Well, that holds absolutely true here!! We’re not saying that a person who looks like Bradley Cooper, has Bill Gates’ money, and Ryan Gosling’s personality cannot exist, of course he can. In Mills and Boon books! Yes, if he sounds like all of it, he probably isn’t any of it!

2. Mismatched personal data

Look closely at their profile for mismatching information. A man who is over 6 feet tall will have a proportional weight, which should match his general structure. Also a man who was born in 1980 will not have joined college in 1990.

3. Inconsistent style of communication

Classic fraudsters find it difficult to maintain a consistent stream of communication. If he seems to come online at strange/different times every day or uses a different style of talking/writing every time, beware – there’s probably a team at work here. Also, if they try to take your conversation to personal chats or emails outside the dating site, they’re looking for something else.

4. Inconsistent storylines

online dating

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Someone who’s lying and creating a completely fabricated story for you is bound to slip up sometime and mix up events, timelines, and people. When you notice and point it out, they usually stumble and give some kind of a weak excuse. Now that’s enough to spot a liar a mile away!

5. Unnatural photos

With photoshop and all kinds of photo editing software floating around, anyone can edit himself in and out of any picture. However, some careful examination should reveal some clues about whether the photo is real. The photo may also look like it’s got pieces cut from different pictures. Usually you’ll notice that something feels a little ‘off’ about the picture right at the start – that should be your cue to start digging.

6. Too many job/money related questions

Scammers want to know if you are worth their miserable scammy time, so they’ll try to scope you out at the start by asking leading questions to gauge how well you earn and how your general financial situation is. This is harder to spot, since it’s natural for anyone to ask about your profession.

7. Instant love

online dating

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This is classic scammer behavior – they’ve just been talking to you for a couple of weeks, but are now professing undying love and eternal commitment. And this is without even having spoken or met, ever!

8. Tragic stories

The money scammers have their own stock files of tragic stories to read out whenever they feel that their victims are now secure in their grip. These stories often have to do with temporary financial hardships, medical emergencies, and life or death matters. Yeah right!

9. Abnormal social media profiles

Scammers don’t have real profiles anywhere. As a result, their so-called accounts will have weird pictures of them, without any friends or family. They have very few people in their friends list and generally gives the feeling of a hastily set up account.

10. Hesitation about meeting

Scammers like to stay safe under a blanket of anonymity, as much as the online dating website will offer. So any suggestion to meet or even video chat is likely to be met with hesitation or lame excuses.

11. Being out of the country

online dating

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Many scammers claim to be U.S. citizens who are currently out of the country, but will be back soon enough. This is a great excuse to not meet in person, as well as to request funds for an emergency.

12. Too much ego stroking

Fraudsters try to target older, vulnerable women, usually by giving them what they want to hear; in short, they stroke their ego and flatter them incessantly. Getting too many compliments from someone who barely knows you is a sure fire red flag.

Suggested read: The dos and dont’s of online dating

Tips to avoid falling for an online dating scam

online dating scam

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Now that you know how to spot a scammer in his tracks, you can take precautions to prevent such an event from occurring in the first place. It really isn’t that difficult, but just a list of basic precautions that work well even in real life dating!

1. Stick to reputed sites

There are just too many websites out there to keep track of, so stick to sites that have a nationwide presence and a good reputation, generally. For better results, read reviews and do enough research before venturing out.

2. Don’t share location

Many websites have the option to hide your geographical location. They may recommend it for finding better matches, but it’s safer to turn this feature off. And once you start communicating with someone, take care not to reveal any landmarks or location details.

3. Don’t share too much

Scammers are good at making you let down your guard and start sharing. Beware of this and don’t open your heart after the third email. Chatting to someone via computer has fewer inhibitions, and scammers make use of this.

4. Don’t overshare on other social media platforms

online dating scam

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Many online dating websites pick up information from social media sites and try to match people with common friends. Scammers can also track down your social media profiles where you may have shared information about your place of work, your location, and even where you eat dinner every weekend!

5. Don’t post pictures of friends or family

This especially applies to kids – don’t share their photos at any cost. You may be inadvertently setting up your friends and family members for trouble from potential stalkers who can also get their information from social media.

6. Google and cross check

You’ll obviously have access to their profile photo; so do a Google search and see what comes up. You can check if it’s a genuine profile, and you can also cross check with their social media accounts for any scam markers.

7. Ask to meet or call

Soon after you start chatting, ask the person to set up a meeting, in a public place, of course. If they readily agree, then they probably aren’t hiding anything. But if they hesitate, make excuses or seem to want to stay under wraps, then something’s wrong. For this very reason, it’s better to encourage communication with someone from your own region, rather than outside.

8. Stop if there’s any talk of money

online dating scam

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

If there is even the slightest hint of a request for help from his side, run. It might not necessarily be to send him money directly; it could be to cash his checks, or to send him a parcel or something. Stay out of it and don’t get involved under any circumstances.

9. Don’t open strange emails

If an email looks fishy to you, don’t open it. The same way, don’t click on any links you get through emails or otherwise, they’re probably attempts to steal your credit card information or passwords.

10. Trust your instincts

Last but not least by any standards, trust your instincts. You’ll be able to smell a rat as soon as you see one, so don’t let the scent of his flowers overpower that and cloud your judgment. Stay alert, stay safe.

Suggested read: Met a creep on an online dating site? Say, ‘Bye Felipe’!

In case you’ve been accosted by a scammer, don’t panic. Just cut down all communication with him and report him to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Cell. All the information you give can help them catch the scammer, so try to collect any record of communication you may have had with him. There are also many databases of known online dating scammers, and you can always cross check with them.

The tips mentioned above to protect yourself from online dating scams may make the current online dating situation seem grim, but in reality, it isn’t that bad. There are still people who find it easier to establish a relationship online before taking it to the next level in the real world. It isn’t practical to expect the dating website to keep track of all the creeps who sign up, especially when they pay money for their dating services. It is absolutely up to the person signing up to ensure that they’re not being taken for a ride by someone who is out to take advantage of their good nature. When people become more aware and don’t give in to the traps of scammers as well as report the ones they come across, fraudsters will be less emboldened to scam and rip off another unsuspecting soul.

Good luck!

Featured image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

Article Name
Online Dating Scams: How To Protect Yourself
It's a brave new world of online dating out there, but it's also one with risks. Learn how to protect yourself from all kinds of online dating scams.
Fabida Abdulla

Fabida Abdulla

Fabida is an erstwhile Software Engineer and current Freelance Writer cum stay-at-home mom to her boisterous 6-year-old. In between all the writing, baking, nagging, reading, and cuddling, she manages to blog a bit about her crazy life at Shocks and Shoes. []