According to Consumer Reports, 12% of people have been scammed on dating sites. A popular victim stereotype is the middle-aged woman over 50 with fading good looks. But in reality the victims of dating scams defy stereotype — they include women and men of all ages, CEOs, doctors, lawyers, college students, and many others. According to the Federal Trade Commission study published in 2013, those who have experienced a negative life event in the previous 24 months ― such as becoming widowed, divorced, separated or unemployed ― are twice as likely to become a fraud victim. And the scams vary in tactic and motive.
Let’s look at the most popular scams happening in the land of romance.
Arguably, every dating scammer is a catfisher — that is, someone who uses a false online identity to deceive another person into thinking that they’re a romantic interest. The problem is that people become catfishers for various reasons. Here are the top two types of catfishers.
The Social Catfisher
This catfisher is usually an individual who’s struggling with intimacy issues. They feel unable to present their true identity for a number of reasons ranging from self-esteem and body issues to past relationship problems. They might be living out a fantasy, seeking revenge against an ex-lover, or getting a thrill from deceiving people. The game is more about being play acting than actually dating.
While this kind of catfisher isn’t usually financially harmful, they do take an emotional toll on their victims. Thanks to the perfectly normal mechanism of romantic projection, anyone can be catfished and develop very real feelings for someone who isn’t real at all.
The Criminal Catfisher
The FBI warns that these catfishers are out for the money. They often claim to be Americans traveling or working abroad, usually military personnel because many people in the U.S. trust people in the armed forces. They might claim to be a young widow or widower with kids looking for love.
In reality, the scammer lives overseas. Their prey on those who are the most emotionally vulnerable, with their most common targets being women over 40 who are divorced, widowed, and possibly disabled. Incredibly patient, they draw out the deception for months as they build up their persona, not to mention the trust and confidence of their victims. Inevitably at some point, they’ll ask for money. At first it might be a small sum. But once they realize you’re willing to send cash, the requests will soon grow in amount and frequency.
Tinder users need to be vigilant about what’s known as the Account Verification Scam. After you exchange a few messages with your new match, he or she will ask if you’ve verified your Tinder account. They’ll send you a link to follow. But don’t do it! It’s a phishing scam that takes you to a third-party website featuring phrases like “Tinder Safe Dating.” These sites often look legitimate because they use Tinder’s latest trademarks. The site then asks you for personal information like your full name, e-mail address, birthdate, and credit card number.
The (s)Cammer or Sextortionist
Men are apparently more likely to fall for this scam, which has been reported on OkCupid, but it can happen on any dating site. The “sextortionist” will want to “get naughty” on cam right away or exchange explicit photos. Without your knowledge, they’ll record the session and then threaten to send the session or photos to your friends and family unless you pay up or launder money for them. And because so many people have a public list of friends list on Facebook and other social media, the (s)cammer can easily carry out the threat.
How to Protect Yourself
Keep up your guard. Scammers scan your social media posts to create dating profiles that “uncannily” match your likes and lifestyle. So keep your Facebook locked down from public view as much as possible to limit what scammers and other kinds of hackers (known as “social engineering“) can learn about you.
Beware fast declarations of love. Like predatory psychopaths, they’ll express strong emotions pretty quickly, which can set off a chemical reaction in your brain that disables your ability to think clearly about the person. So, if someone is “in love” with you when you’ve never met, be cautious.
Ask to meet the person right away. If they’re shy about meeting in person, or even having a video chat, then chances are it’s a scammer. Ditch and block, stat.
Reverse search photos. Scammers of all stripes tend to steal photos from others, especially military personnel. They won’t have many photos of themselves either, maybe even just one. And, oh, they will have all kinds of excuses for not having more.
Run a reverse phone lookup. If you manage to get a phone number from this person, run a reverse phone lookup to see who really owns the number.
Search their email address or username in public records. Run a person search on a public record database to uncover other social media profiles. You might be shocked to find they own numerous accounts.
Don’t send money. Scammers will try to make you feel guilty by saying you’re “stingy” or that you’re not as good of a person as they thought. Don’t let them manipulate you.
Report fraud. If you believe you’ve been scammed, report it to the dating site and the FBI.
Don’t Land on the “Sucker List”
According to the FBI, someone who has fallen for a scam before is a favored mark. Once victims send money, scammers put their names on a “sucker list,” says FBI Special Agent Christine Beining. They sell those names and identities to other criminals as part of a much larger organized crime ring. “We have seen victims become victimized again,” Special Agent Beining says.
Let’s hope it won’t be you.