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How to Protect Yourself from Online Dating Scams

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Online dating has been around since the mid-1990s, when Match.com officially became the first website for dating online. We’ve come a long way since then. Not only can you use a website like Match.com to meet potential dating partners, but you can also download an app where simply swiping left or right on your smartphone can match you with someone.

It can be fun to “play the field” digitally, and many long-lasting, meaningful relationships have started online. But the world of online dating is also full of scammers trying to take advantage of vulnerable people looking for love. You don’t have to avoid online dating completely, but if you don’t want to fall victim to an online dating scam, it’s best to keep your guard up. You can practice these few simple safety measures.

How do online dating scams work?

Scammers on online dating sites and apps may take months to build a “relationship” with an unwitting victim. When they’ve gained your trust, they’ll ask for money, gifts, banking info, or some other personal info that they can use against you.

Whenever someone you’ve never met in person asks you for some sort of monetary benefit, it’s likely a scam. Even if you’ve been chatting online with this person for months on end, and feel like you’ve really connected with them, asking for money is always a red flag.

Types of online dating scams to look out for

Online dating scams can come in different forms. The most common include:

  • Requests for money: Most fraudsters on dating sites and apps are after money, gifts, or access to your financial info. They might ask you for money directly or more subtly, make hints to financial hardship. They can also make plans to come see you and ask you to pay for their airline tickets. If they ask you for any money or to pay for anything at all, it’s likely a scam.
  • Extortion or blackmail: Some online relationships may turn intimate. Once the scammer has private photos/videos of you or graphic messages from you, they could use them to extort you. They may threaten to release the compromising material if you don’t pay them.

Signs of a dating scam

If you notice any of the following “telltale signs” of a dating scam on the profile of the person you’re speaking with, realize it might be a scam:

  • Love bombing: “Love bombing” is when someone you’ve just met online showers you with affection and attention and seems to instantly fall in love with you. They might profess serious feelings for you right after you’ve met. If someone does this, they are probably a scammer.
  • See how they react if you have no money: Since one of the most common goals of online dating scams is getting money, try to subtly suggest you don’t have a lot of money. Casually mention you’re stressed about having a lot of bills to pay, for example. Then see if they keep talking to you afterward. If they are a scam artist and realize you don’t have money, they’ll stop talking to you.
  • They’ll never meet up with you in person: If someone constantly avoids meeting you in person, or cancels travel plans to come see you at the last minute, they’re likely a scam artist.
  • The reason they need money is an emergency: If they claim they’re caring for a sick family member and need to pay hospital bills, or some similar situation, it’s usually a ruse. Other common stories are needing a startup loan for a business venture or funding a relative’s funeral.
  • Their job keeps them overseas: A dating scammer might claim they can’t meet you in person because they have a job that keeps them overseas all the time. Examples would be a Fortune 500 company CEO, working in the military, or as an international consultant.
  • Trying to lure you off the dating site or app: Any time someone tries to connect with you outside of the dating site or app, it’s a huge red flag. You should only communicate with potential dating partners through the platform you met them on in the beginning of the relationship.
  • Professional-looking photo: If their profile photo looks like a professional headshot and not a casual photo, that’s a red flag. The person could just be using a professional photo of themselves rather than a selfie to look better, but they could also be a scam artist who ripped the photo from somewhere else.

Tips for protecting yourself while dating online

How can you protect yourself from online dating scams? In addition to looking out for common signs of fake profiles and scam artists, stick to these tips when communicating with someone on dating sites and apps:

  • Never give anyone you don’t know money: In dating or anything else online, never give any money to someone you haven’t met in person. Ever.
  • Don’t move too fast: Dating scam artists take advantage of people who feel lonely or vulnerable, and may try to quickly escalate the relationship. Don’t move too fast with someone you’ve met on a dating site, especially when you haven’t “met” them. Take plenty of time to get to know them.
  • Don’t share personal details: Although you’re trying to get to know someone on an online dating site, don’t overshare too many personal details. You might mention interests or the industry you work in, but don’t tell someone exactly where you work or live. Also, avoid giving the names of any of your friends or family. Don’t share information that could make it possible for the other person to track you down.
  • Report fake profiles: If you do come across a fake profile, report it to the dating platform. Doing so helps root out scam artists and makes it harder for them to try their scheme out on someone else later on.
  • Avoid saying you’re “serious”: If you say on your dating profile that you’re looking for a serious relationship, it could come off as a sign of desperation or vulnerability to scam artists. It might make scammers more likely to target you.
  • Reverse-image search their dating app photo: When you’re unsure about someone on a dating app or website, download their photo and do a Google-image search of it. If any results come up showing the photo attached to several different names or showing it’s a stock photo, stop speaking with the person.

Don’t just avoid online dating scams

Not everyone who uses dating websites and apps is a scam artist, so you shouldn’t avoid using these platforms for this reason. As long as you’re careful and prudent about who you speak with and how much information you share on a dating site, you should be able to protect yourself from a scam.

If you want to learn more about online dating scams, listen to some of our Easy Prey podcast episodes on the subject:

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