Online dating scams, also known as "romance scams" are a reality of the internet. Unfortunately, many people have fallen victim to these scams, losing money and even their hearts in the process.
In fact, in 2021 alone, victims of online romance scams have lost a total of $547 million.
In this blog post, we will discuss how online dating scams work, and more importantly, how to avoid them. We will cover everything from common scam tactics to red flags that should trigger your alarm bells. So whether you're just starting out on your online dating journey or you've been burned by a scam before, read on for tips on how to protect yourself.
What Are Online Dating Romance Scams and How Do They Work?
Romance scammers use fake profiles on dating apps and online dating platforms to lure unsuspecting men and women into sending money. They do this by creating false personas and posting photos of attractive young women. When someone responds to one of those profiles, the scammers pretend to be the woman. Then they convince the victim to give them money via gift cards, wire transfers, PayPal payments, or even cash.
Scammers can also pose as attractive men to lure females as well. Although it's not as common, it has happened.
The scammers know how to make themselves look trustworthy. And because most people trust others who seem nice, they're able to fool people into handing over personal information.
To avoid being scammed, you need to understand what a typical online dating scam can look like.
How to Identify a Potential Online Dating Romance Scam
Scams are often very convincing — especially online scams. You might think you know what to look out for, but there are some common lies and tricks used by fraudsters that you probably didn't even realize. Here are 10 red flags that you shouldn't ignore.
1. They Ask for Money Right Away
If someone asks for money upfront, it's a big tip-off that they want to take advantage of you. Scammers are always looking to make money fast and quickly. This is one way they do it.
2. They Try to Involve You in a Scheme
You've likely seen ads promising "free money," "easy ways to earn cash," and other similar promises. These aren't real opportunities. There is no such thing as free money. And most people who offer easy ways to make money are trying to scam you. And yes, this also happens on dating sites!
3. They Claim to Work for a Company
This is another clue that they're not legitimate. Companies rarely hire employees to contact potential customers directly. But scammers use fake names and email addresses to impersonate legitimate businesses and try to get you to sign up for something.
We all dislike spam emails. Unfortunately spamming is common in online dating sites. Many fake profiles are created just to send spam messages. This is especially the case if you're using a free dating site where anyone can create a profile.
5. Fake Profiles
Scammers often set up fake accounts to make themselves seem trustworthy. If you receive a request for money or personal info from someone claiming to be interested in you, chances are they're trying to scam you. The majority of fake profiles are pictures of attractive young women. So if the profile seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Scammers use stolen pictures of real people to make their fake accounts look legitimate. Once they have your phone number, they can text you, call you, or even email you pretending to be the person whose photo they stole.
This makes it easy for them to trick you into sending lewd photos. If you send them compromising photos of yourself such as nudes, they could potentially blackmail you.
Therefore, you should never send any compromising photos of yourself to anyone online — no matter how well you think you know them.
6. Inconsistent Stories
Look for inconsistencies in their stories. Scammers often make up fake stories about their lives to try and gain your sympathy. They might say they're from a Western country but are currently traveling or working overseas. Or they might say they're in the military and can't meet in person.
Pay attention to how their story doesn't add up. This is usually a red flag that something is wrong.
You can also try running a Google search on their name and see if anything suspicious comes up. If you find the same profile picture on multiple sites with different names, it's probably a fake account.
7. Bad Grammar/Spelling
If they claim to be from a particular country and write to you in that country's native language with very bad spelling and grammar, be suspicious. It's likely that they're not who they say they are and likely from a different country posing as someone else.
8. They “Fall in Love With You” Very Quick
If someone you are talking to on an online dating site or dating app tells you they love you without even meeting you, they're most likely a scammer. Scammers often try to get you to commit emotionally first and then ask for money later.
If someone tells you they love you before meeting in person, be very suspicious. This is usually a red flag that the person is trying to scam you.
It's not normal behavior.
8. They Avoid Meeting You in Person or Through Video Chat
Many dating sites allow you to connect with members via video chat. If there isn't that option, then you could use Skype, FaceTime, or some other video chat option.
Scammers will often avoid meeting in person or via video chat because they don't want to be seen. If they refuse and give you an excuse like they are too shy or something like that, consider that a red flag. If they are on a dating site they should be looking to meet. If they are not willing either on cam or in person, then there's a very good chance they are not the person in the photos.
9. They Get You to Click on a Link
Another common tactic especially found on free dating sites by scammers is to get you to click on a link that goes to a completely different website. These websites are used by scammers because if you make a purchase with their link, they get a commission.
A lot of these are porn or webcam sites where men and women get naked for money. I am sure you are aware of what we're talking about here! While some of these sites are actually legit, the person in the photos you are talking to is not.
10. Military Romance Scams
These low level scammers often pretend to be serving members of the US Armed Forces. They claim to be stationed overseas and ask potential victims to send money via Western Union or MoneyGram.
These scammers can be found on just about any dating site, it doesn't even have to be a military dating site.
These scams aren't just limited to the United States. In fact, one study found that 90% of scam reports came from outside North America.
One man told us how he fell prey to such a scam. "I met her on a dating site," he says. "She claimed she was in Afghanistan." She asked him for $2,500 in exchange for a ticket home. He sent it. Then she disappeared.
Another man says he got married to his wife while on deployment. After he returned home, he discovered she had been cheating on him.
"They'll say anything," he explains. "You don't know what they're gonna do next."
He says the best way to avoid being fooled is to check out the profile pictures carefully. If something doesn't look quite right, report it immediately.
How to Protect Yourself From Online Dating Scams
1. Don't give out personal information until you're sure you can trust the person you're talking to. This includes things like your full name, address, and financial information.
2. Be wary of anyone who asks for money, especially if they claim they need it for an emergency. If someone you've only been talking to online starts asking for money, that's a big red flag.
3. Never send money or gifts to someone you've met online without first meeting them in person and getting to know them. Once again, this goes back to not giving out personal information until you're sure you can trust the person.
4. Be cautious about any offers that seem too good to be true. If someone you've met online suddenly offers to take care of all your travel expenses for a meet-up, that should set off some alarm bells.
5. Trust your gut. If something feels off about someone you're talking to online, or if they start pressuring you for personal information or money, it's probably best to end communication with them.
How Do You Report an Online Dating Scam?
If you believe you have been a victim of an online dating scam, it's important to take action immediately. The first step is to contact the dating website where the scammer first approached you and report the incident.
Be sure to include as many details as possible, including any messages or profiles that were used in the scam. You should also file a report with your local police department and the Federal Trade Commission.
Online dating for the most part is an extremely rewarding experience. Thankfully real people vastly outweigh the fake ones. Understand though that fake profiles are much more rampant on free dating sites - where a lot of scammers and scam bots hang out.
Online dating scams are a real danger to anyone looking for love online. However, by being aware of the signs of a scammer and following some simple precautions, you can avoid becoming a victim. Remember to never give out personal information or money until you're sure you can trust the person you're talking to. This means when you've actually met them in person.
Always be cautious about any offers that seem too good to be true. If something feels off, it probably is, so trust your gut and walk away.
Have you ever been a victim of an online dating scam? What tips do you have for avoiding them? Share your stories and advice in the comments below!