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Online Dating Scams and How to Avoid Them

Joe Eweka talks about online dating scams and how to avoid them.

Online dating has gone mainstream. But finding love over the internet comes with risks. You could be targeted in an online dating scam.


See Dating Scams with Joe Eweka for a complete transcript of the Easy Prey podcast episode.

Joe Eweka has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a Ph.D. from Walden University, and a Master’s degree in information technology from Strayer University. He has licenses in several other disciplines, including real estate, and is certified by the Project Management Institute (PMI) as a Project Management Professional. He believes that the most important thing, after loving God, is loving our fellow man.

Joe’s interest in online dating scams started when he joined Flixter (a social-networking movie site that formed Rotten Tomatoes and was eventually bought by Fandango). He originally joined to communicate with his brother living in Italy, as making international phone calls was very expensive at the time. On Flixter, he started getting contacted by people he didn’t know. At first it was just friendship, with both men and women contacting him, but eventually the romantic propositions started. And despite his background in law and criminal justice, Joe fell for an online dating scam.

Joe realized that if he could fall for an online dating scam, anyone could. That started his interest in romance scams and the risks of dating on the internet.

I needed to put this in writing so other people will know what the dangers are.

Joe Eweka

Catfishing: The Most Dangerous Type of Online Dating Scam

“Catfishing” is a term that many of us have heard. It is when someone creates a fictional persona or identity to target a specific victim or victims. It’s so dangerous because the victims are targeted specifically – the scammer has done their research and knows just what you want.

The motives of catfishing can vary. Tricking you out of your money is a common one (as it is with most scams). As a romance scam, some catfishers have the goal of playing out some sort of fantasy with you. And some catfishers’ goal is just to cause you pain.

​Signs that You’re Being Targeted by an Online Dating Scam

1. They want to move your conversation off the dating site/app quickly.

If your conversation is entirely on the dating site or app, the site or app has a record of the conversation. You are able to report their profile for scamming or fraud, and the administrators can see exactly what they’re doing. If your conversation is over email, text, WhatsApp, or anywhere else, it’s easy for catfishers to avoid you reporting them.

2. The conversation quickly turns romantic.

Very few people are willing to say “I love you” to someone they met a few days ago on a dating app and haven’t seen in person yet. But catfishers are trying to get you hooked, and one of the great ways to do that is to seem like they’re very interested. Beware if the conversation rapidly turns romantic.

3. They ask a lot of questions about you but don’t give much real information about them.

One of the classic signs that you’re being scammed is that the scammer avoids telling you anything about themselves. But the people running online dating scams are smarter – they’ll tell you things that are made up. Be wary of stories that seem too good to be true or too tragic to be real.

4. They don’t remember what they told you last week.

If you ask the same question in a different way days or weeks later, if you’re being catfished you’ll likely get a different answer. Scammers usually work in teams, so you may not be speaking with the same person today that you were last week, and you’ll be able to see the inconsistencies in their answers.

Somebody telling the truth will tell you the same thing every time … someone lying to you may not remember what they said last week.

Joe Eweka

5. Their profile pictures look too good to be true.

Very few real people on online dating sites have professional photographs to put up. But catfishers try to create the perfect man or perfect woman for you, and part of that is showing themselves with perfect pictures. Using someone else’s pictures is very common in online dating scams.

Catfishers are smart, and anyone can fall for an online dating scam. Be aware of these signs to keep yourself safe.

6. There is no digital footprint under their name.

It’s almost impossible to have no presence anywhere online. If you google the name they give you and the only thing that comes up is the profile you’re talking to, you’re probably not talking to a real person.

7. They re-use text or plagiarize other people’s text.

Catfishers don’t like to reinvent the wheel. If they find a bio or flirty text somewhere that they like, or they found one that has worked with other victims, they’re going to use it. Some websites that expose scammers even have lists of common bios and texts that catfishers send to people they’re trying to scam.

8. They avoid video calls.

A catfisher is pretending to be someone else – they don’t want you to see who they really are and be able to identify them if they get caught. They will resist getting on a video call. If they agree, something will be wrong with the camera.

Doing a video call with you is antithetical to their objective because their objective is to defraud you.

Joe Eweka

Deepfake technology may one day be good enough that catfishers can get on video calls and still pretend to be someone else. But for now, being able to see their face is a good way to make sure you’re not getting caught in an online dating scam.

​How to Avoid Getting Caught in an Online Dating Scam

Even the smartest person can fall for an online dating scam. If you want to avoid falling for one, or think the person you’re talking to online might not be who they say they are, Joe suggests these do’s and don’ts to keep yourself safe.

1. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know on social media.

This reduces the risk of catfishers being able to contact you in the first place.

2. Don’t reveal your sensitive personal information on social media/dating sites.

Joe recommends not even giving your real date of birth to any social media site.

Joe recommends always using a laptop or desktop computer. Mobile devices are convenient, but on a computer, you have the ability to hover your cursor over a link and see where the link goes. That way you can check and see if it’s suspicious or malicious before you click.

4. Don’t assume you’re safe because you initiated contact.

Just like some predators in the animal kingdom wait for their prey to come to them, some cybercriminals create the perfect profile and then wait. Their victim – you – comes to them. You take the bait, and they will swallow you.

Just because you were the one who initiated contact doesn't mean you're not falling for an online dating scam.

5. Do beware of too many compliments, especially flirtatious ones.

You can copy and paste specific compliments into search engines. Some of them may show up on websites that expose scammers. If so, you’re dealing with a catfisher.

6. Do keep all of your communications on the dating site.

Many catfishers will delete their profile as soon as the conversation moves off the site so you can’t report them. Don’t let them convince you to switch to email, text, WhatsApp, or anything else. You can report any scammer behavior, and the site will have all the records.

7. Don’t rush.

Ask lots of questions. Repeat the same questions in different ways days or weeks later, and note any inconsistencies.

8. Don’t keep talking to people who are suspicious.

The more opportunities they have to talk to you, the more they have to convince you to fall for their online dating scam. If you are being catfished, report them to the dating website and cut off all communication with them.

9. Don’t send any compromising photos or videos.

A catfisher who is after money can use those photos or videos to extort money from you. A catfisher who just wants to hurt you can upload them to the internet for anyone to see.

10. Do take someone else along to meet someone for the first time.

Scammers don’t usually like to meet in person. But if the person you’re talking to agrees to meet, ask if you can bring someone else along for the first meeting. Someone who wants a genuine relationship won’t object. Make sure you tell people who aren’t going with you where you’ll be and who you’re meeting, just in case.

11. Don’t go to another country to meet someone you have never met in person before.

This is a general safety measure. Far worse than being scammed, someone who wants you to meet them in another country could be looking to hold you for ransom or sell you into sex slavery.

The dangers go far beyond losing your life savings – you could lose your life.

Joe Eweka

12. Do reverse image search their profile picture.

Google knows everything – if the picture has been used elsewhere, Google will find it. Do this before getting involved with anyone you meet online.

13. Do a background check.

If you’ve decided someone looks like a good match and they don’t seem to be a scammer, do a background check on them. Do this before getting emotionally involved, and definitely do it before meeting in person.

14. Don’t use online dating.

Joe recognizes he’s a little old-fashioned, and you’re free to do whatever you want. But personally, he doesn’t think the risks of online dating are worth the potential rewards.

In my unasked little view, if you want to date, it is better to date someone you already know.

Joe Eweka

15. Do report scammers to the Federal Trade Commission and to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

File a report with the Federal Trade Commission here.

File a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center here.

Joe Eweka is the author of Confessions of a Lonely Lover: An Exploration of Online Dating Scams and is known in the music industry as African Joe.

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