With as many as 1 in 5 people starting a relationship online, Internet dating is now looked at as a great way to find a significant other, just like meeting through friends or hanging out at the bar. Of course, meeting people online still has its downsides. The popular film and MTV show Catfish shows just how often people can fall for lies when romance and the Internet mix.
Unfortunately, the consequences of being deceived online can be much worse than a broken heart.
What’s going on?
Scammers are finding a way to prey on online daters’ money and reputation by targeting them and patiently gaining their trust, until they can take advantage of them. Criminals are using dating sites looking to turn the lonely and vulnerable into fast money through a variety of scams.
Who are they targeting?
Every age group and demographics are at risk of Internet scammers, but in particular, they focus their efforts on older women, especially those who have labeled their dating profile as divorced, widowed or disabled. The scammers are aware that widows may have been left with an inheritance and people living with disabilities may receive assistance from the government.
Where are these scammers located?
According to the FBI, scammers claim to be American citizens who are traveling or working abroad for several weeks. This gives the scammers an alibi to build up a relationship of trust, with the excuse that they will not be able to personally meet for a while. However, most of the scammers often reside overseas and are usually part of a large international crime ring. The majority of the scammers have accents, especially British or Australian.
How do they get money from people?
There are two major ways these scammers try to get money out of innocent online daters.
The first way is simply by asking for money. For some reason, bad things always seem to happen to scammers, especially when they’ve made arrangements for a fictitious time to meet. The scammer or a family member all of a sudden gets sick and needs surgery. Or they were heading to the airport to see you and got into a terrible accident. One interesting thing to note is that they may not actually directly ask you for money, but try to guilt you or make you feel sorry for them, until you are the one offering the money.
The other, more sinister, way scammers get money out of daters is through extortion. As the relationship advances, many people begin to feel comfortable enough to share intimate messages or pictures of themselves with the person they think cares for them. Unfortunately, some scammers take these pictures and messages and use them as ransom—they threaten to post them online to damage the person’s reputation unless they’re paid off.
What are the signs of a scammer?
- They claim to be an American working abroad, but they have a poor grasp of grammar or might miss some cultural references you make.
- They ask you to get off the site where you met to talk elsewhere.
- They don’t want to video chat with you, and usually they avoid phone conversations as much as possible.
- Their pictures are almost too perfect. They are often stock photography or stolen from other sites. Their profiles are fake.
- They keep making excuses for why they can’t meet up with you.
How can I protect myself?
Internet dating is a serious matter. According to the website Dating Scam Report, there are hundreds of complaints regarding scams on Match.com alone. Its not unusual for unsuspected people to give tens of thousands of dollars to scammers. In fact, according to the FBI, “in addition to losing money to someone who had no intention of ever visiting you, worse yet, you may have also unknowingly taken part in a money laundering scheme by cashing phony checks or sending money to an organized crime ring or even a terrioist organization.” The FBI strongly recommends that if you believe that you may have been victimized by a dating or any on line scam to immediately report the matter to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which collates and analyses the data, looking for common links or threads, in order to identify the criminals.
There are some preventative measures people can take in order to avoid being scammed such as the following:
- If you’re widowed or divorced, avoid putting that information in your profile, as it attracts scammers.
- Use a separate email for your dating profile as to not jeopardize your primary email address.
- Insist on video chatting with the person. In this day and age of smartphones, Skype and FaceTime, there’s no excuse. If they really can’t facetime, ask them to send you a picture holding a sign with a unique phrase of your choosing.
- Use services like Google reverse image search to make sure the pictures you’re receiving haven’t been stolen from another person or site.
Many people who are getting involved in the dating scene, whether they’ve met someone online or physically in person are using the services of a private investigator to conduct a background check. A private investigation company, such as ours can keep dating an interesting and fun environment by giving you the peace of mind that the guy or gal you’ve met is someone you can fall for without falling for a malicious scam.