Looking for Love? Don't Fall for Online Dating Scams
It's easy to fall for a scam if you fall for an internet 'sweetheart'
Online dating has a come a long way since the first dating websites hit the scene in the mid 1990s. A Pew Research study found that about half of Americans know someone who has used online dating or met a spouse or partner online. That's a lot of people looking for love or companionship. It's also a lot of people who are potential scam victims.
A Fake profile is Just the Beginning
Romance scams are one of the darker sides to online dating. Scammers create profiles on popular online dating sites using stolen photography and information. Using email, instant messenger services, and text message, they begin to facilitate a relationship with someone they've met online. Just as things begin to sound like they are getting serious, the scammer requests money or some other financial favor.
Often, the scammer claims they traveled to a foreign country on business and fell into some kind of financial or medical trouble. Sometimes they offer to meet in person and request money for travel. A disturbing twist on this scam finds victims using webcams to perform sex acts for their love interest. The videos are then used to blackmail the victim into sending money to avoid its release.
Thousands of men and women are conned by romance scams each year, with the average victim dishing out about $26,000. Most of the victims are over 40 years old. The scam is so prevalent in the military community that the U.S. Army has its own dedicated website aimed at preventing such cons.
Red Flags and Warning Signs
If you're looking for love, but don't want to get swindled, stay alert and follow these hints:
Unrealistic photos and profiles: If the person in the photo looks like a model, it's probably a fake photo. Similarly, if the profile sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Anyone that makes allusions to having great wealth or coming into money should be avoided.
Inconsistent or unmonitored communications: Vague or repetitive email responses could mean you're dealing with an organized crime ring. Dating websites often have an internal communication system that monitors for scammy behavior. While many online relationships do eventually move to more personal modes of communication, like phone or email, be wary of anyone that wants to skip straight to getting your personal information.
Asking for money or favors: Generally, it's good practice to avoid giving money to anyone you don't know, especially when you can't verify their story. No matter how well you think you know your online love, this person is still a stranger. Never send money using wire transfer services like Western Union or prepaid debit cards like Green Dot MoneyPaks. These are favorites among scammers of all kinds because once the money is sent, it is impossible to retrieve.