Online dating is a fixture in today’s culture, often riddled with the same frustrations and quirks as searching for love in person. Online, though, it’s maybe not a matter of looking for love in all the wrong places, but a matter of looking for love among the wrong people.
There are thousands of scams floating around the far-flung corners of the internet, all horrendous in their own right. But the most violating and egregious are the ones that prey on those just trying to find a potential partner or love connection.
The Heartbreaking Truth (and Stats) for Online Dating Scams
The Federal Trade Commission recently reported that in 2020, online dating scams cost Americans $304 million, nearly double what Americans lost in 2019. The number of scam victims reached 32,792, an increase of 30% from the year before. The circumstances of the past year present the potential for these numbers to rise, and the methods that scammers use to become more creative.
If you’re in the online dating game, caution and education should be your strategy. The heartbreaking truth is if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Read up on these five common online dating scams so you can better protect yourself from fraudulent affection.
1. Pay My Bills Penelope
The main goal for most online scammers is to gain a payout of some kind. This may come in the form of asking for gift cards or money to cover household and travel expenses. “Innocent” mentions of unpaid bills can snowball into wire transfers of thousands of dollars meant to patch a hole in drywall or fix a leaky roof; anything to keep a scam victim’s online partner in comfort.
Along those same lines, scams for money are often presented as a dire financial situation of some type. Here are examples of stories to look out for:
“Well, I was going to fly out, but it turns out my dog has to have surgery, and I can’t afford both the surgery and the plane ticket.”
“I just lost my job and I’m having trouble paying my rent and utilities.”
“My wallet/purse was stolen and they cleaned out my accounts!”
“I got a hospital bill in the mail and I don’t have insurance; it’s outrageously high.”
“Someone stole the nice mountain bike I had right out of my garage.”
2. Flakey Phil
If your online love interest perpetually comes up with excuses to not meet in person, that’s a considerable red flag. The saying “something came up” can only be used so many times, and online dating participants should only have so much tolerance for rescheduled meetups or being stood up altogether.
Common excuses for delaying dates or not meeting up include:
They contracted an illness or injury (easy to claim in recent months).
A family emergency came up and they have to go attend to it.
They have a lot of work they need to get done and they just don’t have the time to go out.
They “fell asleep” and that’s why they didn’t respond to your messages.
They don’t have enough money to travel to meet you, or that their car broke down.
3. Eager Edgar
There’s no official timeline for how a relationship should progress, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore red flags as yours does. If your online connection professes deep feelings sooner than what might seem appropriate, take a step back and reassess a bit. Early on (even as quickly as a day or two) they might say they’ve never felt like this about someone before, or share intimate details and secrets about themselves that they claim they’ve never told anyone else. Scammers employ these tactics to instill a sense of trust in their victims, to make them think their sweetheart is confiding in them on a level unmatched by anyone else in their lives.
Some scammers even go so far as to profess love or propose marriage very early on. One word applies: beware. Either proceed with extreme caution or end communication altogether; if your instincts are triggered by too much affection too soon, chances are your suitor may not have the most romantic intentions in mind.
4. Overseas Olivia
Long distance relationships are tough. They’re even tougher when you haven’t even met the person…and it doesn’t seem likely that you will anytime soon. In fact, that goes beyond the realm of tough—it’s downright suspicious.
A common theme in online dating scams is a person who claims to work overseas (e.g. on an oil rig, or completing a construction project) or that they’re traveling abroad for a period of time. Or they might say they’re visiting friends or relatives in another country. This makes it much easier to avoid meeting in person, and may also set up a legitimate-sounding reason to ask victims for money. They may claim they don’t have the money to get home, or that they were robbed while on vacation. If someone you’re talking to online asks you to wire money, more than likely you’re at the receiving end of a scam.
5. Nosey Ned
Getting to know someone doesn’t entitle them to every detail about your life. If you notice your online suitor is unusually interested in certain aspects of your life—like what your address is, exactly, or where you bank, or your social security number—run away (figuratively). Sometimes these kinds of probing questions are heavily disguised and asked offhandedly. But more often than you’d think, sometimes the scammer won’t bother to veil the question very well at all, or will come right out and ask you directly.
You don’t have to be polite if Nosey Ned pushes uncomfortable questions at you—especially if you’ve declined to answer at least once. If it was someone who truly respected you and cared about your comfort, they would stop (or hopefully not ask you these types of questions to begin with). Unfortunately, scammers can be fairly patient, and sometimes gain a victim’s trust over months or even years. If a scammer lowers their victim’s guard and wears down their resolve, it’s much easier to get sensitive information out of them.
How To Protect Yourself From Online Dating Fraud
Not everyone on a dating website or app is a scammer. And it’s not your lot in life to be a victim. Unfortunate things may happen, but taking a proactive and cautious approach to communicate with people online can greatly reduce your risk of becoming a target.
– Never give financial or personal information to anyone, regardless of how well you know them or how trustworthy they appear to be.
– Never send money or gift cards to someone you have only met or communicated with on a dating website, app, social media platform, or over the phone.
– Confide in someone close to you about your new relationship. If they think something isn’t quite right, take their words and advice into serious consideration.
– Read up on your internet provider’s resources for being safe online.
– Don’t post details about your life on social media. Scammers can easily comb through your profile and mine information that makes you a prime target.
– Complete a reverse search of the pictures the person has on their profile to ensure they don’t belong to someone else.
If you suspect someone you’ve been talking to online to be a scammer, you can report their profile to the dating site or app administrators.
Other steps you can take:
– File a complaint with the FTC: reportfraud.ftc.gov or ftc.gov/complaint
– File a complaint with the FBI: ic3.gov
– Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network: 877-908-3360