Online dating has taken the world by storm in the past several years. With people becoming busier, online dating provides a platform to talk to someone you haven’t had time to meet in person initially. During the Covid-19 pandemic, because of lockdowns and no nightclubs, online dating became even more popular.
But does it seem too good to be true? There will always be feel-good stories about online dating. After all, more and more people are finding their romantic partner on online dating websites and apps.
Yet, at the same time, these platforms provide space for scammers to lure in victims. Let’s talk about how you can protect yourself.
How do online dating scams work?
Several years ago, it was all about Tinder. But nowadays, that is not the case. Dating apps have exploded in popularity. We have OKCupid, Match.com, and many more specialized platforms that connect people with similar interests.
However, with the increasing popularity of dating apps, there has been a rise in dating scams. Because of this, it is important to learn how to identify a scammer among many profiles on dating apps. These scams follow a similar profile, beginning with the scammer creating a fake profile. Often, this profile has photos from an existing, attractive person on social media or a dating profile. Once you match with the fake profile, the scammer will quickly try to move the relationship forward.
They will try to gain your trust and then ask for personal details, gifts, and sometimes, even money. The end goal can vary. Sometimes, scammers stop when you visit a phishing site, but other times, they go as far as identity theft.
We have to remember the risks of online dating are very real. How can you protect yourself? Read on!
Types of Online Scams to Watch Out For
Before we get to some tips about how to protect yourself, let’s take a look at the different types of online dating scams that are out there.
In other words, fake online dating profiles. It is a term that was coined after the movie Catfish came out in 2010. But many used it before. It describes a fake online dating profile that uses attractive photos to lure victims into a relationship. After they lure victims, they start asking for information or money.
If you notice any red flags like too-good-to-be-true photos, run away.
Similar to catfishing, the difference is romance scammers specifically ask for money. Many believe it is the number one danger online. You hand over your financial information to scammers as they ask you to send cash and gift cards.
Once they have your information, they can proceed with financial fraud.
The term phishing describes identity theft romance scams. This is a situation where identity thieves use dating apps. They create fake accounts and try to lure victims into giving up personal details. Those include the address of living, names of relatives, workplace, and so on.
The problem is most of the questions feel normal for dating. But they help scammers guess passwords and hack into online accounts. In some cases, they might even try to get your social security number.
Fake hookup sites
One of the common scams lately is trying to lure victims into signing up for fake online dating sites. You might think it is an easy hookup website, but the problem is they are full of bots and fake accounts.
When you sign up for a fake website, you will have to pay a fee and provide personal details, photos, or ID for verification.
In the best-case scenario, you will waste some time and a bit of money. But the worst case is these websites are full of malware, which can infect your devices and extract sensitive information.
Crypto investment scams
With the rise of crypto, scammers have found a way to utilize its popularity. Cryptocurrency investment scams are the most recent. Some might say dangerous online dating scam.
Fraudsters build a long-term relationship with the victim, and as they get to know each other, they begin to talk about interest in crypto. Eventually, criminals offer to guide their victims in their investments.
They then have you open a legitimate cryptocurrency account and deposit money into it. Where the scam reaches its height is when they ask you to move your Bitcoin, Ethereum, or other currency into a fake exchange.
Blackmail and extortion
There is a reason why one of the tips we will talk about later on is to be careful with the webcam and photos. Never send sensitive photos to someone online, even to someone you know. Fraudsters might ask for sensitive photos and videos. They promise to send their own in return.
But after you send photos, the scammer might threaten to leak your photos to family and friends if you do not pay a ransom.
You might not know it, but you are laundering money for a fraudster. In this type of scam, the scammer sends you money and asks you to purchase gifts, foreign currencies, or crypto. They might also ask you to open a bank account and send/receive packages.
You might think you are doing them a favor. The reality is you are a money mule and could even be liable for criminal charges.
Tips for Staying Safe
How can you protect yourself from being scammed? Well, you have to understand how dating apps and websites work. Yes, they can be useful tools for meeting someone new. But you have to use them with caution. Here are some tips to remain safe online.
Do not share personal details
Starting with your full name, date of birth, and home address. These are not details you need to share with a stranger. You cannot know what they will do with it. We do not recommend sharing personal information even with people you already know. It might end up with a fraudster pretending to be them.
Be careful when selecting a user name on dating websites. Never include information like your location or full name. Robert From New York will not cut it.
Do not send or receive money
You should never receive or send money online to someone you haven’t met in real life. No matter how convincing the story is, there is always a risk of being a fraud. We talked about how you can turn into a money mule before, right?
You should also not share your bank account, credit card number, or other financial details with unknown people.
Use trusted websites
No matter how attractive a website looks, always check it on Google. Do not fall into the trap of some relatively new and unknown websites promising great and quick hookups. Fraudsters often open up fake websites to get your information and pay a fee.
Think twice before using a webcam
Using a webcam and going on a video call is one of the ways to see whether the person in the picture is the one in the video. But if you use a webcam, be careful about the footage. That footage can be used against you for blackmail and extortion.
This applies to cameras on all of your devices, including smartphones and tablets.
Restrict location permissions
There are many ways to restrict the location on your app and website. Using a virtual private network is one of them. Some dating apps do not allow you to turn off location sharing completely.
But you can always set the location permission to “only while using the app”. This way, your location will not be listed while the app is running in the background.
With a virtual private network, you can encrypt and conceal your entire online traffic, including location.
Slow down the romantic relationship
Do not jump into a romantic relationship with someone you meet online quickly. Talk with friends, and seek their opinion. Usually, online fraudsters try to move the relationship as quickly as possible. This is their way of getting everything they need from you and then dumping you.
Verify the profile
Always cross-check profiles and verify them. You can do a simple online search using the person’s name or the photo on Google. See whether that photo appears under the name of the person you are talking to.
Do not sign up with a social media account
Dating apps sometimes allow you to sign up using a social media account. This allows you to skip the signing process with a tap of a button. While it is convenient, it also means you give up information to the dating app.
Some apps might use your social media profile picture as the primary photo, making it easy for people to pull up your social media profile and find out more about you.
How to Detect an Online Dating Scam
There are some quick ways you can detect an online dating scam easily. Here are some tips:
- Upload one of the profile photos and do a reverse image search
- Use a phone number lookup service to verify the identity
- Ask to video chat or meet in person
- Run a background check and see if the person has a history of harmful behavior
- Look out for red flags described above
What should you do if you recognize a scammer?
Victims of online scams can feel overwhelmed and embarrassed. But it is important to report the problem to help the community. Every fraudster should be eliminated from dating websites.
Block the scammer, but contact the authorities. If you suspect a scam, document the relationship with screenshots and save records of any transaction they got you to make. Lastly, report the scammer to the dating website or application. You can also file a complaint to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center or police report with local law enforcement.