Online romance and dating scams have been on the rise in recent years, and have led to victims losing millions of dollars each year. Actually, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), confidence / romance fraud result in the highest amount of financial losses to victims when compared to other online crimes.
In 2018, there were more than 18,000 reported cases of these kinds of scams in America – an increase of more than 70 percent over the previous year. These numbers are quite alarming, and so there’s every reason to be careful whenever you want to try online dating.
How do theses scams work?
Dating scammers start by setting up fake profiles on dating sites and social media. They then create a whole persona about themselves to make it look real. Typically, they usually claim to have overseas jobs that keep them outside the country for long. This can be serving in the military, working for a non-profit, etc.
They then take time to build trust with regular conversations, poetry, gifts, long e-mails, and declarations of love. This can go on for weeks or months. However, they never bring up or agree to face-to-face meetings or video calls.
Eventually, after earning your trust, the pitch for money comes in. Often, they will say that they have an emergency situation where the money is needed fast. This can be something like a legal problem, a frozen bank account, a family member who has a medical emergency, etc. – nothing sells better than a sad story.
The first request for money is usually not that big, but once they know you are hooked, they’ll then come back with a bigger need. Before you realize it, you’ll have been scammed out of your money!
Who are the targets?
Barb Sluppik, who runs the watchdog site RomanceScams.org, says that she’s worked with “men and women of all ages – doctors and lawyers, CEOs of companies, people from the entertainment industry – who you’d never think in a million years would fall for these scams but do.”
This means that if you are looking for a partner online, then you are a potential victim. However, there are groups that are usually more “attractive” to romance scammers. These include:
Women: Older women who are divorced or widowed are the most common targets since they are often lonely and emotionally vulnerable.
Residents of developed nations: Romance scam victims are all over the world, but scammers tend to target people who are more likely to have money to spare.
Professional successful people: You’d think that victims of romance scams are dumb or naive people. However, studies show that successful people are not as good decision-makers when it comes to relationships. In this area, they tend to be impulsive and can be easily manipulated.
Victims of a negative life event: A 2013 study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that people who have recently suffered a crisis, especially within the last two years, can be vulnerable to online scams. This also applies to people who have suffered abuse as they are more likely to turn a blind eye on warning signs. This is because they have been living in denial, finding ways to excuse abusive behavior.
How to avoid online dating scams
The best way to avoid online dating scams is knowing how to identify a scammer. Apart from that, you also have to take a few precautions to ensure that you don’t open your heart – and your wallet – to a scammer.
How to identify a dating scammer
Since scammers always fake their identities and personalities, there are often loopholes that you can exploit to identify one.
They’re too good to be true
Though they may not often oversell themselves enough to look fake, romance scammers try as much as possible to be the perfect fit for you. They’ll therefore tend to share your religion and political beliefs, hobbies, etc.
Their profiles are scanty
It’s quite difficult to build a consistent fake identity. Scammers, therefore, tend to keep their profiles to a bare minimum. You won’t find many pictures, and they will tend to only have a few friends. In most cases, their friends are usually accomplices in the con. They tend to pose as doctors, bosses, lawyers, etc. when the money issues start coming in.
They work fast
Since they want to con you before you wise up, romance scammers usually try to take things fast. They will declare their love after a short time, and they will try to make you emotionally dependent as fast as possible.
They forget important details
These people usually operate multiple accounts, and so they may tend to forget details you tell them. If you notice that a person keeps forgetting about events you told them, this can be a warning sign.
They avoid using your name
To avoid slipping up and calling you another person’s name, scammers tend to use endearment names like “sweetie” or “honey.”
They don’t do video calls
Since their identity is not real, they will always come up with excuses to avoid video calls or meeting in person.
They always have emergencies
Scammers do not want to give you time to think about the whole story or asking for advice from another person, and so they always present their issues as emergencies.
How to avoid online dating scams
Apart from identifying scammers, there are also expert-provided tips you can use to avoid being a victim:
- Dig deeper into their story
- Do a Google image search
- Take it slow
- Meet in real life
- Don’t share intimate photos
- Don’t send any money!
Always protect yourself when online
One of the best ways to protect yourself from scams and other cybersecurity threats is to observe online privacy/security and caution. This ranges from using security tools like a VPN to keeping your details private.
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