Matching with others online may help you find love or meet new friends, but some predators may pose as interested matches in an attempt to emotionally, physically, or financially harm another. By following some important speed dating advice and taking precautions when communicating with matches, you can protect yourself and potentially avoid dangerous situations. Understanding red flags associated with potential matches may help you avoid being taken advantage of by an online predator.
Types Of Online Dating Scams
In 2018, there were more than 21,000 reports of romance scams. These online predators may be looking for money, attention, or to manipulate others physically or emotionally. Encountering an online predator when you’re looking for love may make it difficult to trust others.
It may take a lot of courage and strength to join an online dating site or social group. Getting scammed, ghosted (when a person discontinues communication without explaining why), or even having difficulty finding a good match can make some people feel hopeless, or adversly impact their self-esteem. Being aware of red flags can help you avoid those looking to take advantage of you, but if you find online dating may be negatively impacting your mental health, online therapy is available to support you.
Catfishing is on online scam in which a predator makes an online profile with false information and pictures of someone else. The predator then impersonates this other individual and may try to convince you of their fake identity in order to manipulate you. Someone doing a catfishing scam may wait to be contacted on a dating website by another because it indicates there is an interest they can exploit.
Many catfishing scams are attempts by con artists to financially gain from another. They first use their fake online profile to develop an emotional relationship with another individual. Once that relationship has been established, they may attempt to get money from the other person. Because the innocent party is emotionally invested in the relationship, they may willingly provide money to the predator when requested.
In a typical catfishing scheme, the relationship begins with messages on the website. After building an emotional connection, the predator may request you transition off the site and chat by phone, text, or email. Under the guise of romantic interest, the scammer may try to get to know everything they can about the person they are scamming. They may even send them gifts to try to create long-distance romance.
Once a relationship develops between the scammer and the other person, the scammer may request money. They may suggest they are having a physical, emotional, or financial emergency. The predator may not even directly ask for money, but by this point the innocent party may be so emotionally invested in the relationship that they offer it willingly. Once the scammer receives the money, their affectionate emails, texts, and gifts may suddenly stop. By the time the innocent person realizes they’ve been exploited, the scammer may be gone, and because they used a false identity, it can be difficult to identify them.
Not all people running a catfishing scheme request money. Some may use their emotional hold to manipulate the other person for their own emotional benefit. For instance, a predator might start to act jealous and request that their partner discontinue relationships with friends or family. The predator may use emotional manipulation to make themselves feel powerful or satisfy their ego.
Love bombing occurs when a prospective partner shows excessive romantic attention towards a stranger. By showering their target with attention, gifts, and affirmation, they may create false intimacy. Once an emotional bond has developed, they may exert their influence over the other person, controlling their behavior and isolating them from friends and family.
In a typical love bombing scam, an innocent person matches with someone online who may immediately start praising everything about them. If they meet in person, the predator may bring gifts and be increasingly flattering. In a very short amount of time, the predator may push the other person to define the relationship, possibly even saying “I love you” after a date or two. Over time, the predator may make themselves appear to be the perfect partner and may make the other person think they have found their soulmate.
Once a relationship has been established, the predator may start to influence the behavior of the innocent party. They may dictate where the other person can go or who they can spend time with. Over time, the innocent person may lose their sense of self and may become isolated from family and friends.
Red Flags To Consider When Online Dating
Not everyone you meet online is an emotional predator, but understanding the red flags may help defend you from being taken advantage of by others online. Look out for:
Someone Younger Than You Who Appears To Be Your Perfect Match
Some scammers may target older men or women with large incomes. These individuals may have lost a partner in the past or may be lonely and looking for a serious relationship. While not every person online who seems like a good match is a scammer, someone who appears perfect and immediately lavishes you with attention may be looking to manipulate you.
Photographs Suggesting Extreme Wealth
Some individuals running catfishing schemes may use fake photos of expensive cars or homes to heighten your interest. If the predator eventually requests money from you, these photos may make you more willing to provide a loan because they may lead you to believe you will quickly receive your money back.
Someone Who Makes Excuses When You Try To Meet In Person
A false identity is at the core of catfishing schemes. If they leave the country, go to the hospital, or experience a family emergency every time you attempt to set up a face-to-face meeting, they may be an online predator.
People Who Want A Relationship Without Getting To Know You
Rushing into relationships with people you meet online may make you vulnerable to an online scam. Taking things slowly may help shake off predators looking for financial or emotional gain.
Some predators may share information to entice their targets to divulge personal details they can later use against them. The scammer may also be attempting to force a strong emotional connection in order to manipulate the other person.
Those Who Push You To Communicate Off The Website
Dating apps often have moderators who may flag manipulative or offensive conversations. If the person you’re messaging turns out to be a predator, the authorities might also be able to track them down based on their app profile. Moving communication off the app before you get to know someone may shield them from responsibility later on.
If you suspect you are communicating with an online predator, you may want to keep a copy of all communications by taking a screenshot of any app or online conversation. If you believe you have been taken advantage of in an online scam, report the predator to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and to the app or website that you are using.
Therapy May Help You Manage The Emotional Ups And Downs Of Online Dating
For some people, online dating may cause or exacerbate mental health challenges. Being a target of an online dating scam can make it hard to trust others, while struggles to match with those you are interested in may make people feel rejected, objectified, or burned out. Using online dating apps can increase your risk for depression, anxiety, and emotional distress.
If you’re experiencing mental health challenges related to dating, a history of trauma, or other factors in your personal life, online therapy can help. Online cognitive behavioral therapy may be an effective, cost-efficient treatment option for you. Online therapy may support those who are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression due to online dating. A supportive therapist may be able to help you regain trust in your relationships if you’ve experienced an online scam. They may even give you strategies to protect and defend mental health while online dating, like setting boundaries with new matches.
Online therapy doesn’t take as much time during the week as face-to-face therapy does. For many people, online therapy is also less costly than in-person therapy, which can be helpful for people who have been financially taken advantage of by online predators or those who are spending much of their expendable income on dates. Additionally, because online therapy is performed from your home, many people feel more comfortable discussing vulnerable feelings like loneliness, low self-esteem, or unworthiness with their counselor.
Online counselors have helped many people through interpersonal struggles like relationships or work. Here are some reviews from satisfied BetterHelp clients.
“Mark is an amazing therapist. He listens so well and has such valuable insight on male and female perspectives and issues while also not passing judgment. I have only just begun, but he has already given me so many great takeaways to improve my relationships and situations. I am filled with gratitude, and I would highly recommend him to anyone!”
“I’ve worked with Jamie for a number of months, and he’s helped me with everything that life has thrown my way. Difficulty in work, my relationship, and other stresses that I’ve struggled to navigate by myself. He listens and he helps. I always feel validated and supported. He gives me tools and perspectives that have made a big difference in my overall happiness.”
Even if you don’t come into contact with an online predator, online dating can be emotionally challenging. Online therapy may strengthen your mental health when you experience mental health challenges. If you need support with your mental health, online counselors are available to support you. For judgment-free support, try BetterHelp.
How do dating scams work?
Most online dating scams involve a scammer making fake profiles on dating or social media sites. The profiles of scammers may be complex. They might include detailed information about the person they are pretending to be, source multiple photographs (often stolen from another person’s profile), and convincingly communicate a desire for a romantic relationship.
The scammer may be contacted by someone interested in a date, or they might proposition another person. Once a conversation begins, the scammer slowly builds trust over weeks or months, usually until their target is comfortable sending them money. To build that trust as quickly as possible, many scammers do extensive research on their targets, examining their social media and dating profiles for information they can use to relate to them.
The scammer’s target becomes their victim once the target forms an emotional connection and develops trust for the scammer. They are often manipulated into accelerating the relationship, frequently being asked to give money so that their apparent lover may travel to meet them. Once the scammer has collected something of material worth from their victim, they typically cease all contact with them, suddenly “ghosting” them and making it difficult to determine the scammer’s true identity.
How do I protect myself from dating scams?
Protecting yourself from online scams requires vigilance and some investigation. One of the best ways to protect yourself is to be doubtful of anyone who asks for money, gift cards, a plane ticket, or any other material item. Simply having a personal policy that you will not give money to anyone that you have not met in person is likely to be enough to keep you from being scammed.
Here are some other basic tips for protecting yourself from dating scams, in addition to withholding money completely:
- Limit the amount of personal details that you post online.
- Use reverse image search tools to see if the potential scammer’s profile photo appears elsewhere online. If you find that the image is associated with another person’s online presence, it is more likely a scammer is using the photo to create fake profiles.
- Ask questions and be suspicious. If the person seems too good to be true, they likely are.
- Proceed cautiously if the person fails to attend several planned meetings or always has an excuse why they cannot meet in person.
What do you need to know about romance scams?
Romance scams are one of the most popular and effective scamming methods in use today. The scam begins with a fraudulent actor - the scammer - making a profile on a dating app or website. The profile is completely fake; pictures are stolen from other profiles or elsewhere on the internet, and the information included in the profile is usually sparse and made up.
Once a satisfactory profile is set up, the scammer solicits dates or other romantic encounters from legitimate website users. Their profile often represents them as very attractive, rich, or successful to make them appear more enticing to other users. Once the scammer has found a suitable user to target, they initiate a conversation and begin to form a casual relationship with the person.
The scammer will then try to earn the trust of their target. They will often be charming and appear romantically interested in their target as they attempt to get them to lower their guard. Eventually, the scammer requests some sort of material good from their target, often requesting money through a wire transfer. Once the money is sent, the scammer may come up with excuses or reasons they need more. At this stage, they are trying to get as much as possible from the target. Once their target becomes suspicious, the scammer will typically remove their profile and cut all contact.
How common are scams on dating sites?
Dating scams have been on the rise over the last several years. Data from the Federal Trade Commission indicates that dating scams rank number one for total reported losses from consumer fraud. In 2015, 8,500 reports regarding dating scams were reported to the FTC, resulting in dollar losses of $33 million. Just three years later, in 2018, the FTC collected 21,000 reports of dating scams, amounting to $143 million in losses. Three years after that, in 2021, losses reached a peak of $547 million.
Dating scams are increasingly common, coinciding with the continued popularity of online dating. Although this type of fraud occurs frequently, there is a surefire way to prevent yourself from becoming a victim: never give money to anyone you have not met in person. Scammers use charm, lies, and excuses to get unsuspecting people to send them money, but simply refusing to engage can protect you from the vast majority of fraudulent actors.
Why do people fall for dating scams?
Many people disregard the threat of dating scams as something that only happens to the reckless and unwise, but scammers are adept at conning their targets and earning their trust. A scammer will likely tell a convincing lie that seems reasonable to the person they are targeting. They behave in a manner that may not immediately set off red flags, and they are likely to use charm, flattery, and excessive validation to encourage their targets to let their guard down.
Dating scams can happen to anybody; the only way to avoid losing money is to remain vigilant and never send money to someone whom you have not met in person. Although a scammer’s lies may seem convincing, if someone you have only communicated with online or on the phone wants money, it is unlikely they are someone worth sending it to.
Where do most dating scams originate?
Research regarding the geographic origins of dating fraud indicates that most online dating scams originate outside of the United States. The top three countries where dating scams originated were Nigeria, Ghana, and Malaysia, which accounted for 30.2%, 13.4%, and 11% of dating scams, respectively. The United States was the sixth most popular origin of dating scams, accounting for 3.5% of dating fraud.
Who falls for dating scams?
Romance scammers prey on everybody. They tell convincing lies and use charm, flattery, and excessive validation to encourage their targets to trust them. While a scammer can potentially trick anyone, evidence suggests that some people are more likely to fall victim than others. In contrast to popular wisdom that older people are more likely to be tricked by a romance scam, evidence indicates that middle-aged people are the most likely age group to fall prey to the lies romance scammers tell.
Research indicates that people who are impulsive and score high on measures of sensation-seeking are also likely to suffer romance scam losses, likely due to the pressure that the scammer applies to get their target to make a quick decision. The evidence further indicates that those who score high on addiction characteristics are also more likely to be scammed, possibly due to an inability to pull themselves away from the scammer once fraud seems likely.
What impact do scams have on people?
The most significant impact of romance fraud is financial. In 2021, the FTC indicated that it had received reports of losses due to dating scams of $543 million. In 2022, that number more than doubled to $1.3 billion. Less than a decade earlier, in 2015, that number was just $33 million. The FTC further indicated that in 2022, the median loss per victim was $4,400.
Those who give money to a fake love interest also face potential identity theft if they have revealed significant personal details with their scammer. There are social implications as well. Many people are embarrassed or in denial after being scammed, and victims of dating scams find it difficult to rebuild their social networks to seek support after the truth has been revealed.
What are the dangers of scams?
The biggest danger associated with dating scams is financial. In 2022, lost money from dating scams amounted to $4,400 per victim and totaled $1.3 billion overall. There is also a risk of identity theft and delicate information being spread. There is also a risk of embarrassment, denial, or shame following the scam. Many people who have been scammed online find it difficult to get support from friends and family, likely due to the misconception that only unintelligent or wilfully ignorant people fall for such scams.
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