Since 2015, Americans and Canadians have reported losing nearly $1 billion to romance scams, according to the Better Business Bureau. The study also shows that people on dating sites and apps are often the main targets.
Almost 50 million people have tried online dating, so it’s likely that the amount of money lost to romance scams is only going to go up. But we can all do something to prevent that from happening. In this article, we’ll tell you about the common warning signs and offer tips for spotting online dating scams in the first place.
Warnings Signs of Online Dating Scams (#1-10)
Before you can avoid online dating scams, you’ve got to know what to look for. So, in this section, you’ll find strange online dating behaviors that should cause your spidey senses to go off.
1. Their Profile is Bare
A practically blank profile is a huge online dating red flag that the person either doesn’t care about finding a date or partner or is a scammer. Why would someone be on a dating site but not provide some information about themselves or their ideal match? If someone reaches out to you and they have an empty profile, your best best is to ignore them.
2. They Only Post a Couple of Photos (Or None at All)
This goes hand in hand with not filling out a profile. Beware if the person has just one or two photos of themselves. This is especially true if the photos are blurry, cropped funny, taken from far away, or the photo shows someone covering their face, or looks like a stock photo, and things like that.
3. They Make a Lot of Grammar & Spelling Mistakes
We’re not all trained journalists, and mistakes are bound to happen. However, if someone on a dating site or app is constantly spelling words wrong and forgetting commas, periods, and question marks, you’ll want to be on your toes.
It’s true that English might not be their first language, and they deserve the benefit of the doubt. But just keep in mind that a lot of scammers are based in Nigeria, Ghana, the Ukraine, Russia, and China.
4. They Ask a Lot of Personal Questions But Avoid Yours
The initial parts of online dating are all about getting to know your matches, so you’ll be answering a lot of questions from them. You’ll also be asking plenty of questions yourself. The problem starts when a match asks you all kinds of questions, particularly very personal ones early on, but they won’t answer yours. Maybe you’ve brought up that you’d like to know where they went to school a couple of times, but they keep deflecting to other topics or give you short answers like “Oh, nowhere special.”
5. They Immediately Want to Leave the Site & Switch to Email
Every dating site and app has a messaging system that allows members to privately communicate. When a new match wants to leave the site after one message and asks to email or text instead, it’s a little weird. The dating platform’s messaging system is secure, and if something strange happens to you with this match, you can report them. But when you’re emailing or texting outside of the platform, if something strange happens, they can just go back to the dating site and try to rope in someone else. To us, it seems like they don’t want to get caught and kicked off the site for good.
6. Their Life Seems Too Good to Be True
You don’t want to go into online dating with a pessimistic outlook, but you do want to have somewhat of a guard up. If you have a match telling you all about their big house, fancy cars, extravagant trips, great job, and wonderful family, it could all very well be true. Don’t call them out, but just keep it in the back of your mind if you’ve never actually seen the proof of this perfect life.
7. They Tell You They Love You Very Early On
We’ve all probably heard stories of people falling in love almost immediately and they’re still together to this day. The same can happen with online dating. However, it’s smart to be realistic and keep your feelings in check.
Scammers will try to appeal to your emotions and take things to the next level as soon as possible. If you start falling for the person but you still have a little voice inside your head saying this is all happening so fast, listen to it. Don’t push it to the side.
8. They Won’t Skype or Meet in Person
Once you’ve gotten to know someone on a dating site a little bit, usually you’ll want to transfer to calling or Skyping or, most importantly, going on that first date to see if the chemistry is really there. A scammer will always have an excuse for why they can’t video chat (e.g, their connection is bad or they lost the charger to their laptop) or meet up (e.g., they got stuck at work or got a flat tire). If it’s been weeks and you still haven’t heard their voice, seen their face in real time, or shook their hand, it’s OK to start getting suspicious.
9. They Experience an Emergency & Need Money
A typical strategy online dating scammers will use is saying they have an emergency and need you to send them money. It could be that their mom just found out she has cancer, and she can’t afford the surgery. Or it could be that their sister was in a bad car accident, and the physical therapy costs are too much for her. Whatever the situation, it’ll usually happen all of a sudden, and they’ll try to make you feel bad for them. Don’t fall for it. Remember you don’t actually know this person yet. There are plenty of other ways people can get financial help, including insurance and loans.
10. They Get Mad When You Doubt Their Motives
If you’ve made it this far and still haven’t given the person what they want, you’ll most likely see a new side of them, an angrier side. You won’t send them money, you won’t give them personal information, like your address or grandmother’s last name, and you keep questioning everything they say and do (or don’t do). They’ll start to turn things around on you, saying that you’re paranoid and don’t care for them as much as they care for you. This is a common form of manipulation.
Ways to Avoid Online Dating Scams (#11-15)
You now know how an online dating scammer might behave and what they might say to take advantage of you, but you’ve still got to learn the ways to detect a scam way ahead of time. This way, you won’t fall into the trap at all.
11. Use a Separate Email & Number Just for Online Dating
Before you register for a dating site or app, you’ll want to think about creating a new Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail account that will only be used to communicate with your matches. We suggest not using your personal or work email. This will help ensure that someone can’t continue to harass you if things end badly and you two go your separate ways.
There are also ways to give the person a number that isn’t your actual number, so you can call and text without any worries. Google Voice is an awesome resource for that.
12. Run a Background Check on the Person
Contrary to what some people say, we recommend looking up your matches online before getting too involved with them. See what you can find on Google and social media, and you can also use sites like BeenVerified that will tell you if their photos have appeared somewhere else online, whether they have a criminal history, or if they are currently married. Doing even a little bit of research and finding nothing will give you peace of mind.
13. Never Put Personal Info on Your Profile or Give It to Someone
Most dating sites and apps ask for information like your first name, age, city, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, among other identifiers. However, sometimes you don’t have to provide information for everything they ask for. There may be options for “Prefer not to say” or “Ask me later.” Most of the time, the site handles all of the security for you. Your email is usually kept private, and the platform could be SSL encrypted — which means your personal and financial information stays private and scammers are kept at bay. But remember not to put your last name, address, phone number, children or pet’s names, and other really private details on your profile.
14. Ask Your Matches a Lot of Questions
The more questions you ask a match, the more you’ll get to know them. The more you get to know them, the quicker you’ll learn if they’re genuine or if they have bad intentions. There are ways to do so without interrogating them. Try asking a few questions per message, or maybe don’t ask a question in every message. And make sure to comment on the answers they’re giving you. Sometimes that’ll pull out important information, too.
15. Report Suspicious Users to the Dating Site
As soon as someone makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe on a dating site or app, you should block them from being able to see your profile or contact you. Typically, you can find a block button on the person’s profile. Before you do this, though, take screenshots of the conversations you’ve had, so you have proof of the abusive or inappropriate behavior.
You’ll also want to report them to the platform’s customer service team, so they can review the person’s profile and actions and determine if he or she should be banned from the site. If you don’t do these two things, it’s likely the person will do this to someone else.
The More You Know, the Safer Online Dating Will Be
We’re not telling you that you should never try online dating or that you should be nervous about it if you’re already a member of a dating site or app. Overall, it’s very safe — maybe even more so than meeting a stranger at a bar. But, like almost everything else in the world, you need to take some precautions. The tips above are a great start, and your instinct will always guide you in the right direction.