The nefarious practise is carried out by cyber criminals seeking to exploit that very basic human need for connection and intimacy – more than often for financial gain.
Since everyone, at some point in their life, could suffer from loneliness and desperation, this vulnerable state could impede a person’s better judgement, and ultimately widen a scammer’s trap.
Thankfully, by exploring how online dating scams operate, we can all stand a better chance of identifying them, and most importantly, avoiding them altogether. Let’s dive in…
What are Online Dating Scams?
Put simply, an online dating scam occurs when a fraudster works to build a sham relationship with a targeted victim, for the purpose of stealing their money and or personal information.
To put a figure on US financial damages alone, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) reported that online dating fraud had collectively cost victims a staggering $547m during 2021.
Financial and private data theft can be carried out in a number of ways, including the following:
Requesting Money. A scammer simply asks the victim for money, either as a lump sum or in small amounts periodically; bogus reasons cited by scammers are that they’re on the run from loan sharks, are about to be evicted, or need to fund a life-saving medical operation, etc
Anonymous Theft. Having managed to install a piece of malware (by sending a malicious email attachment, for example), the scammer scrapes private information from the victim’s device, enabling them to commit financial and even identity fraud
Ransomware Theft. Unlike the above variety, there’s nothing quiet about a ransomware attack; having installed the notorious software, the victim’s device and data becomes encrypted (essentially locked forever), with the scammer only offering return access upon delivery of a ransom payment
Extortion/Sextortion. In possession of the victim’s personal information, which could include explicit photos, etc, the scammer threatens to expose it (to the victim’s family and friends, or internet at large) unless a financial ransom is paid
How Do Scammers Target Victims?
In most cases, scammers reside on dating websites, and use phoney accounts which include fictional names, bios, and even stolen photos.
So, while it’s possible that a scammer may proactively search for a new victim, it’s also possible that a victim may unknowingly approach the scammer – totally unaware of what lies ahead.
To pull off a successful scam operation, perpetrators employ tried-and-tested tactics involving emotional manipulation.
Why Do People Fall for Online Dating Scams?
While it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’d never fall for a romantic con, the unfortunate truth is that humans can be prone to poorer judgement when it comes to matters of the heart.
Many scammers have demonstrated a keen understanding of how to build and cultivate trust from behind a keyboard, meaning that they are skilled in turning new relationships into strong bonds – without having to ever meet their targeted victims.
How to Identify Online Dating Scams
When getting to know a potential love interest online, there are several telltale signs that may indicate you are dealing with a suspect scammer, such as the following:
Super Keen Off the Bat. Despite having never met, they are overly friendly and curious to get to know you, and may profess strong feelings of passion and love
They Keep Asking Personal Questions. Leading on, they don’t just want to become acquainted – they REALLY want to know everything about your life
They Are Reluctant to Answer Questions. Conversely, they are more of a closed book, preferring to deflect questions and keep the focus on you instead
They Ask to Talk via Non-Online Dating Platforms. To quickly become a larger presence in your life, they may ask for your phone number so they can message and call
They are Never Available to Meet in Person. For whatever reason – perhaps several – meeting up is incredibly difficult, even though they keep promising that it will eventually happen
They Have a Disruptive Job. While some online daters will of course have genuine reasons for not meeting up, the “I’m out of town this weekend” excuse is a scammer favourite
They Are an Online Ghost. It’s fine for people to be very privacy-conscious online, but when someone has no online footprint – or a very minimal one – suspicions should be raised
They Tick Too Many Boxes. They quite simply seem to be your perfect match, loving everything you love, and agreeing with everything you say; better check their photo for a halo
Their Photos Seem Too Perfect. Leading on, they seem to look great in all their photos, with perhaps a little too many appearing staged and digitally altered
They Ask You to Keep the Relationship Secret. A star-crossed lovers or secret agent-regular citizen scenario may seem exciting – but in reality, anyone who wants to keep your ‘special romance’ a secret is more than likely a conman
They Ask for Financial Help. When someone online asks you for money, alarm bells should be ringing all over the place – no matter the reason given and how convincing they are
They Ask for Personal Info/Explicit Media. Similarly to above, never send any sensitive information or compromising images/videos to anyone you meet online; remember that webcam/smart device footage can be recorded also
How to Avoid Online Dating Scams
Now that we’ve covered what to be on the lookout for, we can more easily identify what can be done to prevent online dating scams from unfolding. Here are some preventative tips/actions:
Research Online Dating Sites Before Joining. Don’t simply sign up with any random dating website – try your best to choose one that seems trustworthy, and ensure that your profile doesn’t openly display any personal contact details, such as your phone number and email address, for strangers to see
Don’t Just Accept Everything People Say. It’s perfectly fine to challenge a stranger’s claims in a light, conversational way; for instance, if someone says they’re a doctor, ask some questions to better gauge whether they are being deceptive
Be Careful About What You Share. When it comes to online relationships, never share PII (personally identifiable information) or explicit media depicting yourself; also, be mindful of how you present yourself/what you share during webcam and video call-based interactions
Don’t Send Money. Online dating scammers can be very persuasive when it comes to asking victims for money; be highly suspicious if this happens, take a step back, discuss the situation with people you trust – and DO NOT send any money
Don’t Meet People Unless You Trust Them. If you do have doubts or concerns about someone you’ve been chatting with online, never meet up with them in person
Always Begin by Meeting in Public. For personal safety, always arrange to meet people in public; if they keep asking to meet in remote places, this could lead to a dangerous situation
Use Online Protection Software. Having an antivirus and anti-malware suite installed from a reputable provider can significantly bolster your online shield, working to protect you from threats such as Phishing tactics (involving malware and malicious websites) utilized by online dating scammers
Listen to Your Gut. As we sit behind our screens, completely immersed, it can be easy to forget just how effective our instincts can be at identifying potential threats – don’t ignore them!
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