How to Spot Online Dating Scams & Stay Safe

The Growing Threat of Online Dating Scams

Online dating is a popular way to find love and companionship, but it comes with risks. Romance scams, also known as online dating scams, are on the rise, with scammers using fake profiles to manipulate and groom victims for money or personal information. This is also commonly recognised as catfishing.

In 2016, the US Federal Trade Commission received 11,235 complaints of dating scams. By 2021, the number of dating scam complaints had propelled to a whopping 56,000, resulting in a staggering $1.3 billion in losses amongst people using dating apps. The pandemic further fueled this trend, providing scammers with more opportunities to prey on vulnerable individuals.

Romance scammers often target older people who are more likely to have valuable assets, resulting in heavier financial losses. It’s estimated by TSB that two-thirds of victims are women, with an average age of 50.

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Protect yourself from online dating fraud by knowing the signs of a scammer using our comprehensive guide below:

What are the Most Common Online Dating Scams?

Fake Dating Profiles

Fake dating profiles have become increasingly common, often used by scammers for romance scams. These profiles are usually created using stolen photos and information from real people. The scammers also use fake names and locations to hide their true identities.

It can be difficult to spot a fake profile, but there are certain red flags you can look out for. One indicator is a lack of information or inconsistencies in the profile. If it has only a few photos or limited details about the person’s hobbies or interests, it may be fake. Additionally, poor grammar or spelling mistakes can be another sign that the profile is fake.

You can also try a reverse image search to identify fake profiles. Simply upload the photo or enter the URL into a search engine like Google Images or TinEye to see if it has been used elsewhere online.

You should also be cautious of anyone who asks for money or personal information. It’s important to take the time to get to know someone before sharing personal details or meeting in person, and a request for money should always be a red flag. Trust your instincts and stay safe while using online dating platforms.

Be Cautious About Exchanging Information for Photographs

This scam involves scammers asking their victims for their contact details in exchange for revealing photos. However, this is just a ploy to obtain personal data, and the scammers may even be part of a larger fraudulent operation that uses bots to prey on emotions and excitement to gain access to victims’ information. This information often times is exploited for things like financial fraud. Be cautious of any requests for personal information and avoid exchanging contact details with strangers online.

Military Romance Scams & How They Work

Military romance scams are a type of online dating scam where fraudsters use the name and identity of a soldier to create a fake profile. They often use tragic backstories, such as being widowed or having older children, to gain sympathy from their victims. These scammers will send messages filled with military jargon, titles, and base locations to impress and create an emotional connection.

Before any physical introductions can occur, the “soldier” is supposedly deployed. Once the scammer has built trust and an emotional connection with their victim, they will start asking for money for various reasons, such as setting up a reliable internet connection, paying for flights home, or supplementing limitations on military medical coverage or retirement planning. In some cases, these scammers may even work with accomplices who pose as doctors or lawyers to extract even more money from their victims. These scams can last for months or even years, leaving victims with significant financial losses and emotionally distraught.

To combat military romance scams, the US Army has created a detailed fact sheet on how to spot scammers posing as American soldiers posted abroad. Be cautious of any requests for money, and never share personal information with someone you’ve never met in person. Stay vigilant and protect yourself from these scams.

Intimate Activity Scams

Intimate activity scams typically start with scammers reaching out to potential victims through social media and building a relationship with them. After a period of intense chatting back and forth, the scammer will ask the victim to connect via webcam. However, the scammer’s webcam will not work, and they will use flattery and persuasion to convince their victim to undress or perform other lewd acts. The scammer will then threaten to share the recorded video or photographs with the victim’s friends or family unless they comply with their demands.

These scams can be emotionally and financially devastating for victims. It is essential to be cautious when interacting with strangers online, particularly when it comes to intimate activities. Always be on the lookout for warning signs and stay vigilant to protect yourself from these types of scams.

2FA Code Verification Scams

Code verification scams are one of the most common Tinder scams. Scammers may send an email or text message, claiming to be from Tinder, asking you to verify your account. They may claim that Tinder is updating its records or that you need to verify your account to communicate with an online match.

The scammer will often include a third-party link in the message, asking you to verify your account by providing personal information such as your name, address, phone number, email, Social Security number, birth date, or even bank account or credit card details.

It is important to note that Tinder only verifies accounts in-house, through a series of selfies. If someone claims to be from Tinder and asks you to verify your account through a link or third-party site, it is likely a scam. Be cautious of any requests for personal information and always verify the authenticity of any message you receive.

Beware of Malware Scams

Malware can pose a significant threat when you’re online, including when you’re using dating sites. Scammers on Tinder, for example, may engage in few conversations with you before directing you to their personal web pages or fake Facebook or Instagram profiles. But don’t be tricked– these pages are NOT authentic, instead they are chalk full of malware and spam which can compromise your personal data and result in identity theft. Be cautious of anyone who wants to redirect you to another site while using an online dating platform.

The Well Known Inheritance Scams

One common scam is where a scammer claims they need to marry to inherit millions of dollars’ from their parents. The scammer usually pretends to be a young woman or a person of high status i.e. a Nigerian prince. They then contact the victim and claim that they cannot move the money from their home country due to taxes/familial issues or some other excuse.

Once the scammer has established a relationship with the victim, they will ask for money to bring the money into the victim’s country. The scammer may even offer to fly to the victim’s country to prove their authenticity, and the victim sends money for the flight. However, the scammer never arrives, and the victim loses their money.

What are the Common Narratives Scammers tell in All these Romance Scams?

  • Requesting money for flights, passports, phone bills, or laptops to visit the victim
  • Asking for money to cover medical expenses for themselves or a family member
  • Claiming to have valuables seized by customs and need money for taxes to recover them
  • Requesting the victim to cash forged money orders and wire the money to the scammer
  • Seeking money to complete education before visiting the victim

Common Warning Signs to Look for In Romance Scams

  • Romance scams are a type of online fraud where scammers create fake profiles to trick people into giving them money or personal information. One example of a romance scammer is the Tinder Swindler, who was recently arrested for allegedly defrauding dozens of women out of thousands of dollars. He reportedly used multiple aliases and posed as a wealthy businessman to gain the trust of his victims before asking them for money.
  • Scammers often use emotional manipulation to build a relationship with their victims, often targeting people who are lonely or vulnerable.
  • They may start by messaging the victim on a dating app or website, then quickly try to move the conversation to another platform, like WhatsApp or Skype.
  • The scammer may ask for money for a variety of reasons, such as a medical emergency, travel expenses to visit the victim, or to pay off debts or taxes.
  • They may also use fake photos or stolen images of models or actors to create an attractive persona that is difficult to resist.
  • They cultivate long-distance relationships to avoid meeting their targets and gain their trust. They might come up with reasons that make it challenging to meet in person, or cancel meetups at the last moment. For instance, the Tinder swindler posed as a billionaire and told his victims he was away on business.
  • They request money from their targets, which is the ultimate sign that you’re talking to a dating scammer. Their requests might come after weeks or months of grooming and manipulation, and they may give various reasons for the money. However, it’s crucial to say no to any financial requests.

How to Report an Online Dating Scammer?

  • If you’re a victim of a romance scam you should immediately report this to the police.
  • Different countries have different agencies to which you can report dating scams, e.g. Federal Trade Commission and FBI’s Internet Crime Complain Center in the US, Action Fraud in the UK, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in Australia.
  • Report the scam to the relevant online dating platform with as many details as possible, such as conversations and transactions, to protect others from being targeted.
  • Contact your bank immediately if you’ve lost money.

Tips on Staying Safe from Online Dating Scams

  • Always be cautious when communicating with someone online, especially if they ask for personal information or seem too good to be true.
  • Use reputable dating websites or apps that have safety measures in place, such as identity verification or screening procedures.
  • Don’t share sensitive information such as your full name, address, or financial details until you’ve gotten to know someone better and feel comfortable.
  • Be wary of anyone who wants to move the conversation off the dating app or site too quickly or who won’t video chat or meet in person.
  • Look out for red flags, such as inconsistencies in their story or profile, unrealistic claims, or suspicious behavior.
  • Use reverse image search tools to check if their profile picture is real, and run any suspicious text through online search engines.
  • Never send money to someone you’ve met online, no matter how convincing their story is.
  • If you suspect you’re talking to a scammer, stop communicating with them immediately and report them to the relevant authorities and dating site or app moderators.
  • Trust your instincts – if something feels off or too good to be true, it probably is.