Don’t Be a Victim: Tips for Avoiding Scams on Online Dating Sites

The guy casually asking you to float him a loan on a dating site may not be what he seems.

The guy casually asking you to float him a loan on a dating site may not be what he seems.

This week, Naked Security published an article about scammers who target dating site users. According to the story, just last year, scammers stole $86 million from Americans on online dating websites. Most of those who were defrauded of money were over 40 years old and female.

How did the scammers pull it off? They were attentive and communicative, sending sometimes dozens of emails and text messages a day to their targets. They posed as successful businessmen who either had inside tracks to “great investments” or who needed a little loan to get back to awesome wealth. The women, enjoying the attention and totally trusting their “lovers,” sent money. The did it even though they hadn’t met these guys in person.

After the scammers took the money and ran, the victims generally felt stupid and embarrassed. They realized after the fact how wrong it was to trust someone on the internet so completely, to send money without even meeting someone first, etc. But in the moment, when a potential romantic prospect is paying lots of attention, it’s easy to get swept away.

Naked Security offers these five tips from AARP to help you avoid being scammed yourself when using online dating sites:

1. Use Google’s Reverse Image Search to check out the potential lover’s photos. Most scammers will simply steal pics off the internet to put in their profiles, so if the photo they use turns up elsewhere, that could be a major red flag.

2. Google them. Put their name into Facebook, LinkedIn, anywhere else you can think of. See what comes up. If the person claims to be an investment banker at a particular business but doesn’t show up as a member of that business’s staff, he may be scamming you.

3. Make sure your location is kept private if you’re using a dating app or other mobile service. You don’t want someone to be able to track your whereabouts. Go into your phone’s settings to turn off location services for the apps you use.

4. Keep an eye out for fishy emails. If your potential lover sends you a message that sounds at all scammy/suspicious/just plain weird, copy and paste the text into google. The email may come up on other sites warning people of romance scams. These scammers don’t usually craft unique emails every time they try to swipe some dough from unsuspecting victims; that would take too long.

5. Maintain your privacy at all costs. Don’t give away your personal info too soon. Your home address, your workplace, your birthday, even your last name should be kept to yourself until you’re sure you can trust this person. If they refuse to meet in public (or make plans and then always cancel), or if they pressure you for your personal info, run away.

Is It Real? Six Ways to Spot Fake Dating Profiles

If you’ve spent any time at all on dating sites, you know that not every profile is real. Some are bots set up to lure people to other sites, while others are real people pretending to be someone desirable so that they can entice you into giving them anything from your contact info to your bank account. People are taken in by these scams every day, and at best, they’re annoying. So how can you tell whether the hottie sending you a wink is really who they say they are? Here are some tips to help you spot the fakes (most of these are courtesy of DateMyPet.com).

1. If they send you a message, wink or other communication within the first few minutes of you signing up for the site, be careful. Real people aren’t usually online every moment, flirting with new sign-ups the second they appear. There’s always the chance that this potential mate happened to see your profile right after you made it, but the more realistic answer is that it’s a bot set up to reach out to new users quickly.

"To your bank account. Err, I mean health."

“To your bank account. Err, I mean health.”

2. If they ask you to come find them on another site, think twice. Many a hottie has sent a message to an online dater that says something like, “Hey, I’m usually on this other site instead, come see me there!” More often than not, these are fake profiles designed to drive web traffic to porn sites or even competing dating sites. The hottie in question probably doesn’t exist at all.

3. If they send you messages even though your profile is incomplete and/or you have no photo uploaded yet, beware. Think about it: would you start eagerly messaging someone who doesn’t even have a photo available yet? Does that sound like prime relationship material? Probably not. Again, it could be automated, or it could be someone hoping to catch you for a scam before you’ve had time to meet the “real” people on the site.

4. If they send you messages that are super-forward or poorly-written, watch out. Men are typically more forward, but rarely will a woman looking for love send a hot-and-sexy explicit message to a guy she hasn’t gotten to know yet (unless she has ulterior motives). Also, messages that are in poor English and riddled with spelling or grammar mistakes could indicate that the person behind that profile isn’t a cute divorcee from Iowa, but rather a scammer from, say, Eastern Europe or Nigeria. Even more red flags should pop up if the person sending you the badly-written messages claims to have a masters or doctorate degree (which scammers disproportionately claim, for some reason).

5. If they ask you for your personal info, use care. It’s not uncommon for people who meet on dating sites to exchange phone numbers or email addresses to communicate further, but if the other person is really pushy to get that info, or if they ask for your mailing address or even (seriously) your bank account login, they’re probably looking to mine and sell your information and/or steal as much as they can from you. There’s no reason to ask for that sort of information through a dating site.

"No, I'm totally a pilot. I just need money to fly orphans to the doctor."

“No, I’m totally a pilot. I just need money to fly orphans to the doctor.”

6. If they have a sob story that they can’t wait to share, step back. Not every scammer is obvious about asking for your bank information; they aren’t all claiming to be princes from Africa. Some of them appear to be real people (often located overseas, see the Eastern Europe thing above) who happen to be looking for love. But then, as you talk to them, it quickly comes out that they need money for some urgent personal issue (hospitalization, dying family member, emergency trip, etc). They’ll weave a sad tale and ask if you, the newfound friend with whom they have such a deep connection, could loan them the money they need. They promise to pay you back. They are so, so grateful for the help. They swear they are legit. We hope you can see where this is going. While it sounds like an obvious con, it’s amazing how many people fall for this because “She just seemed so sincere” or “We video chatted, and he was seriously upset and in need.” Do not send money, bank info or anything else to someone you met on the internet.

Bottom line: Don’t let the prospect of a hot date cloud your otherwise good judgment. Be safe!