What Are Dating Scams, And How To Avoid Them

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated November 8, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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.

It’s Possible To Date Without Sacrificing Your Mental Health

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

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.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
It’s Possible To Date Without Sacrificing Your Mental Health

Counselor Reviews

“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.

Enter relationships with a refreshing perspective

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started