What's worse than being catfished? Being scammed out of money by someone you thought liked you. Romance scams are on the rise, and these shameless grifts cost consumers more money than other kind of internet fraud. Here's what you should watch out for if you're looking for love.
The Most Common Type of Online Dating Scams
Nothing sells quite like a sad story, especially if that sad story stars someone who seems oh-so-perfect for you. That's why most online dating scams involve some sort of problem the scammer has recently overcome or is trying to get through. Some say they are recently widowed, divorced, dealing with a sick family member, or grieving a loss. But more often than not, scammers say they're stuck in another country and need the financial support of someone wonderful like you so they can buy supplies or purchase a ticket home.
Currently, one of the most popular scams involves someone pretending to be in the military. They tell you they're on deployment, they gain your trust, then ask for money so they can finally come home. According to the online dating site Zoosk.com, 25% of the scams reported on their platform involved people impersonating members of the military. Zoosk shares an example of what these attempts look like:
Am currently on a military deployment in Liberia my last mission having a year to be back before I will relocate to the US also buying a house there soon and that will be a place where the woman I get along with on here will love to spend the rest of her life with me happily
Basically, if anyone online is claiming to be in the military and asks you for money - don't give it to them.
What to Watch for When Online Dating
Of course, not falling for scams is often easier said than done. Scammers know how to play to your weaknesses and toy with your mind. According to the Better Business Bureau, this all takes place in three phases.
Phase One: Contact
Through online dating websites, apps, and other social media, scammers contact their victims via fake profiles paid for with stolen credit cards. As soon as they make contact, they quickly try to move the conversation to another platform, like text messaging, or email. Sometimes they will claim they're leaving the site, or that their subscription is about to expire. They do this so they can earn your trust away from the prying eyes of the dating site hoping to identify scammers.
During the contact phase, watch for bad grammar, poor spelling, odd choices of words, and other anomalies that suggest the person doesn't have a good grasp on the English language. This is even more important to watch out for if their profile suggests they attended college.
And be on the lookout for excessive flattery, especially if they look ridiculously good in their photos and there's a significant age difference between you and the other person. For example, if you're a 50- or 60-something man, that 20-something model telling you how handsome you are is probably not real. Also, be wary of anyone who only has one photo, then offers to send you more pictures in exchange for your personal information.
Phase Two: Grooming
During this phase, scammers are trying to build trust with their victims by offering up their life story and gathering information about you. They will ask for small favours during this phase to test the waters and see how willing a victim is to help. Worst of all, they may try to isolate the victim from their friends and family so they don't stop them from making a bad decision.
Watch out for long, overly detailed messages, especially early on in your correspondence. And don't let someone you don't know convince you that your friends and family have questionable motives. Being sent sweet daily messages or gifts from someone you've never met face to face is a red flag as well. Other red flags include them being located somewhere else geographically so it's impossible to meet up, and photos and messages showing how wealthy they are (to get you to lower your guard when they finally ask for money).
Phase Three: The Sting
This is the moment of truth. Contact has been established, trust has been developed, and the fruit is ripe for the picking. During this final phase, the scammer finally asks the victim for money, usually to help with some sort of emergency.
Examples include anything from medical emergencies to kidnapping ransoms to quick getaway plane tickets to unknowingly being pulled into a money laundering scheme. If the victim does send them money, the scammer will find a way to ask them for more and more.
Even if you've fallen for a scammer's charade long enough to get to this point, it's still not too late to realise something is weird. If someone you've never met asks for money, tell them "no" and end communication with them. There's simply no good reason why a stranger you met online should ever ask for money from you.
When in doubt, follow these precautions from the FBI:
- Research the person's photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
- Go slow and ask a lot of questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or Facebook to go "offline."
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests. inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can't. If you haven't met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Never send money to anyone you don't know personally.
And remember, if something seems too good to be true, question it. There's nothing wrong with protecting yourself.