Whether you’ve been unlucky in love or you just haven’t yet found that special someone, the internet gives many people hope of connecting with someone special. But you also have to be careful not to fall victim to dating scams.
Many of us want nothing more than our own personal happily ever after. And whether you’ve been unlucky in love or you just haven’t yet found The One, the internet could give you hope of connecting with someone special. Who doesn’t want someone to talk to during those lonely pandemic evenings or receive a bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s Day (on which, by the way, Americans spend around $1.9 million total)?
But while there seems to be no shortage of singles out there, it’s important to remember that some may not have your best interests at heart. Internet dating was already on the rise (and came with its fair share of warnings).
But with so many people looking for love online due to COVID-19, there are now even more opportunities for you to get your heartbroken — and for you to lose major money as a result of dating scams.
Meeting up with someone you don’t actually know is inherently risky, of course. That’s why you shouldn’t invite a stranger over to your house before you get to know them. Not only are there roughly 2.5 million break-ins that take place every year, but you could easily become the victim of an even more violent crime if you fail to meet in a public place.
But it’s important to remember that you don’t necessarily have to even meet someone in person to become the victim of a criminal act. Internet crime, which involves the use of online means to communicate false or fraudulent representations to consumers, can easily take place in the midst of what you believe to be a love connection.
In fact, federal agencies and other experts are warning that romance scams — like many other types of cybercrime — are on the rise thanks to the pandemic.
It makes sense that criminals would seize this opportunity. With more of us resorting to dating apps and social media platforms to meet and interact with others during this time of isolation, there are more chances to find an unsuspecting individual who doesn’t realize they’re the victim of a scam until it’s too late.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission, and state attorneys are urging the public to use these services with extreme caution. Not only can romance scams be emotionally hurtful, leaving the victim feeling betrayed and rejected, but they can also be financially devastating.
According to the FBI, the agency’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 2,206 from victims in California alone, reporting combined monetary losses of $107,853,977 that year.
On a national scale, there were 19,473 victims who fell prey to romance scams and lost a total of $475,014,032. While numbers from the FTC were lower for both 2019 and 2020, it’s likely that Americans lost at least $304 million last year due to romance scams and that those losses were higher than those associated with any other scam reported to the agency.
Beware Tech-Savvy Thieves
And while you might think that these dating scams stem from unsolicited Facebook messages from obviously fake profiles, cybercriminals have perfected their skills and can easily remain undetected on popular platforms like Tinder and Bumble.
These tech-savvy thieves will often engage in social engineering tactics in order to glean information about their targets that they can later exploit. They’ll typically put in a fair amount of work to forge connections with their victims before they go in for the kill (so to speak).
As the FBI explains: “Individuals looking for love and companionship are the target victims of this type of online fraud. The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do… Amazingly, the scammer often likes what their victim likes, shares the same hobbies, the same interests, the same books, etc. Over time, the scammer increases communication with their victim through email, texts, phone calls, etc. Scammers use poetry, flowers, and other gifts to reel in victims, all while declaring their ‘undying love.’ These criminals often use stories of severe life circumstances, tragedies, deaths in the family, injuries to themselves, other hardships to keep their victims concerned and involved in their schemes. Scammers then often ask victims to send money to help them overcome a financial situation they claim to be experiencing. These are all lies intended to take money from unsuspecting victims.”
It should go without saying that you can’t be sure exactly what you’re getting when you “meet” someone online. The concept of “catfishing” has become so commonplace that many people come to expect it — or they’ll avoid online dating platforms entirely because of it.
While not all of those who engage in catfishing do so to get money from their victims, it’s certainly a factor in the majority of dating scams. And even if someone is using real photos of themselves, that doesn’t mean they can be trusted.
How Do You Protect Yourself From Dating Scams?
So how can you keep yourself (and your money) safe when dating online? Here are a few tips to protect yourself from dating scams that experts recommend.
- Conduct a reverse image search on any photos you can access. To do this, simply drag and drop the image into the Google search box. If it’s posted elsewhere on the internet (which is a big red flag), the results will show that the image is most likely not legit.
- Limit publicly accessible details on your social media profiles. Scammers will often try to use this information to gain your confidence and manipulate you in some way.
- Research as much as you can about the person you’re talking to, including their full name, their education, and their employment history. It’s often wise to stick to platforms that base matches on mutual friends — and to check with any shared acquaintances you might have before agreeing to meet up.
- Don’t let anyone rush you into anything. Scammers may engage in a practice known as “love bombing,” which can escalate relationships quickly. They may also pressure you due to a supposed emergency. Keep a calm head and don’t engage with anyone who has a problem with taking things at your own speed.
- Beware of anyone who wants you to leave a dating app or social media site too quickly in order to communicate privately.
- Anyone who’s living through the pandemic is likely to have a working smartphone camera or webcam. If you can’t seem to get the person to video chat with you, assume that they’re catfishing. And if you haven’t been able to meet up within a few months of talking to each other, if you’ve been getting the run-around, or if you’ve been stood up at the last minute, you should consider cutting off contact. Scammers will often claim to be located in remote areas, but this is rarely the case.
- Most people who are looking for serious relationships will take the time to fill out their dating profile completely, while real social media profiles will have a large number of friends or followers. Ask a friend to help you analyze the profile in question to assess whether it seems legitimate. While this isn’t a failsafe, it can help you avoid more obvious catfishing attempts.
- Although you don’t need to discriminate against someone for being a poor speller or learning English as a second language, be wary if something is off with the sender’s grammar or command of the language. Some scammers will claim to be U.S.-based when it’s clear that they’re not from the use of odd phrasings and syntax. And if a scammer is located outside the country, there’s often little that can be done if a scam is successful.
- If you’re using any dating site, whether it’s free or a paid service, be certain that the platform doesn’t sell personal data to advertisers or third-party companies. This can leave you vulnerable to social engineering and other crimes.
- Refrain from sending intimate photos to anyone you meet online to prevent extortion or revenge porn crimes.
- As a rule, never send money to anyone you meet online (or anyone you might actually know without verifying it with them). You should never send money via wire transfer, provide credit card numbers, PINs, Social Security numbers, or bank account information. Never agree to help move money for someone else or send a package for them.
- If you think you may have sent money to a scammer or become a victim of a dating scam, contact your bank and report the incident to the FTC and FBI.
Final Thoughts on Avoiding Dating Scams
Dating can be rough, even under ideal circumstances. And while you don’t have to completely discount the use of dating apps to meet someone during the pandemic, it’s smart to always have your guard up — and to listen to your gut, lest you fall prey to one of the many dating scams out there.