Online Dating Scams: How to Spot and Avoid Them
Adults of all ages go online in the hopes of finding love – or even their next fling. According to a 2021 Statista survey, 17% of people aged 55 to 64 and 19% of people aged 45 to 54 have used dating apps at some point.
That said, while there are success stories of people finding love online, seeking romantic bliss on the internet can have a major snag, given that cyberspace is full of romance scammers eager to take advantage of lonely hearts. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) received around 56,000 romance scam complaints in 2021 alone, with people losing approximately $547 million during that period.
In this post, we’ll outline common online romance scams and offer tips on how to avoid falling victim to such scams.
What Is an Online Dating Scam?
An online dating scam, also known as a romance scam, refers to a person getting tricked into believing that they’re in a romantic relationship with someone they met on the internet, while in the real sense, their partner is a cybercriminal hiding behind a fake identity in order to gain their confidence to either ask or blackmail them for money.
What Are the Most Common Online Dating Scams?
Some of the most common variations of online romance scams include:
- Military romance scams: In these scams, fraudsters can create an entirely fake profile or use the likeness of an actual soldier. They send out legitimate-seeming messages riddled with military titles and jargon, which sound impressive. They then start to build strong emotional connections with the victim, but before any physical introduction takes place, the “soldier” is deployed. After a while, they start asking for money –perhaps to pay for flights home, a secure and reliable internet connection, a supplement to supposed military medical coverage limitations. These scams can drag on for lengthy periods before the victim finally gets suspicious.
- Fake dating sites: These are dating sites that claim to provide frequent meetups but are either awash with scammers or are underpopulated. A prominent scam involves a dating site asking you to create a profile specifically to mine your information. Be on the lookout for questionnaires that are heavy on questions about your credentials and financial information and are light on dating details.
- Photo scams: In these scams, the fraudster entices the victim to send their contact information in exchange for intimate photos of the fraudster. In the real sense, the fraudster is fishing for personal data.
- Inheritance scams: These scams involve the scammer making the victim believe that they need to get married in order to access their inheritance. The scammer will typically ask the victim to pay for a given expense, such as airfare.
- Code verification scams: Here, the scammers will send a bogus verification code via text or email, posing as a dating website or app. Upon the victim clicking on it, the verification code will ask for their personal information, such as credit card numbers and social security numbers (SSN).
- Intimate activity scams: In these scams, the fraudster will connect with you on multiple social media platforms. Once they build trust, the fraudster will persuade you to undress and later on threaten to expose the recordings if you don’t pay them.
- Malware scams: These types of scams are prevalent on dating sites. They involve a scammer sending a victim to a website that looks legitimate, but it’s, in fact, a page that includes malware.
Tips for Avoiding Romance Scammers and Protecting Yourself
1. Be on the Lookout for Red Flags
By simply knowing how online dating scammers operate, you can easily identify and avoid them. Remember the warning signs and the lies that romance scammers tell:
- They are far away.
- They don’t keep promises to visit.
- Their profile seems too good to be true.
- The relationship moves unusually fast.
- They claim they need financial assistance.
- They ask for specific payment methods.
2. Assess Your Online Presence
Instituting a few cybersecurity best practices can help protect you against online scams. Consider that the more information you share online, the more scammers will know about you and how to lure you into their scam.
Because of this, you should consider keeping your online dating profiles anonymous by using different emails or different usernames to safeguard your privacy. You should also be careful of what you make public on social media.
3. Exercise Caution When Engaging in Online Relationships
The internet can be a great place for developing friendships and, on some occasions, even long-lasting romantic relationships. Even so, it’s crucial that you don’t rush these relationships. Thoroughly vet your new companion, and be wary if things don’t add up.
4. Never Send Compromising Photos
It’s vital that you protect yourself online. One way of doing this is to never send compromising videos or photos of yourself to someone, more so if you haven’t met them in person. These photos can be used to blackmail you later on.
5. Set Up a Phone or Video Chat
Seeing someone’s face can be an excellent way of determining whether or not they are real. As such, you should set up a phone or video call early in your communications with your online companion. Them dodging the calls is a red flag that they could be scammers.
6. Don’t Dish Out Money to Someone You Haven’t Met, Especially Someone Online
Don’t top off cash reload, give out your financial details, or send gifts to some you’ve not met in person. Also, don’t pay anyone with gift cards or wire money to a stranger.
7. Ask for a Second Opinion to Be Sure
Whenever your emotions for someone run too deep, you may find it difficult to face the reality that they are not who they seem to be. Suppose you’re caught up in an online romance scam; you should dial back and ask for a second opinion about the relationship from a trusted friend or family member. They may identify warning signs that you overlooked.
8. Cut Off Communications and Report the Scam
If you are sure or suspicious that you’re being scammed, you should stop communications immediately and report the incident. Always consider that there is a possibility of it being a scam, even if you’re the one who made first contact.
Online dating scams always end up with the victim losing money and, in some instances, being pulled into criminal activities. Apart from the financial costs, victims also suffer emotionally. You may feel depressed, embarrassed, or heartbroken after someone you trusted scams you. That’s why it’s vital that you heed the above tips to outsmart romance scammers.
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