If you thought that your biggest worry when it comes to online dating is how you will look when you first meet, think again!
According to research conducted by Consumer Reports – as well as by the FBI and multiple news operations – as many as one in ten dating site profiles is a scam, though many survey results indicate that this rate may be even higher – especially amongst dating sites targeting older demographics. Given this frightening statistic – in addition to recent, well-publicized scams like the Manti Teo story – it’s imperative that you know what to look for and how to protect yourself when using online dating websites.
First, be aware that dating profile scams tend to come in three distinct categories:
- Financial scams
- Personal safety concerns
- Computer hacking/”ransomware” attempts
Let’s look at each of these different problems in more detail…
Financial scams – situations in which scam artists post phony profiles in order to bilk dating site contacts out of money – are by far the most common cons found on online dating websites. Typically, in these situations, scammers pose as legitimate love-seekers and develop intimate digital relationships with their targets. After a certain level of trust has built between the two, the scammers begin asking for money – citing everything from family expenses to travel emergencies as the reason for their need.
Take, for instance, the example of Debbie Best, who was recently profiled on the Huffington Post. Over a period of several months, the online love Best felt sure she’d spend the rest of her life with went from sending sweet messages to increasingly urgent demands for money. According to Best:
“It was hard to concentrate at work. I started getting sick with really high blood pressure. He was evasive when I asked questions. I’d get the calls consistently or on Facebook — “You gotta help me, I don’t know what I’m going to do” — all day long. It was horrible. I wanted this so bad to be real, but a part of me knew that it just couldn’t be. I just didn’t want to face the reality of it.”
To protect yourself from winding up in a similar situation, keep the following tips in mind:
- Be especially wary of profiles featuring active servicemen and women. Scammers often use images of military personnel on their profiles, as it’s easier to develop a compelling sob story and reason for settling down using this type of background as well as their reason to not be in the country or local to you.
- Use conversation tests to determine if local contacts are real. If your online date claims to be local to your area, drop probing questions about events, weather patterns or other issues that are specific to your area into your messages. If your partner can’t provide a decent response, you could be dealing with a scammer.
- Never, ever give money to somebody that you haven’t met personally (and even then, use caution). People in real relationships don’t demand money from their partners.
Beyond protecting your financial security, you’ll need to take care of your personal well-being as well when it comes to online dating. Although personal safety concerns are far less common than our knee-jerk, “bogeyman” fears of online predators would have us believe, it’s important to keep in mind that anybody with an internet connection can set up a dating site profile. That sweet accountant you met online could be the real deal – or he could be a serial killer using online dates to find potential victims.
To keep yourself safe, take the following precautions when interacting with new contacts on online dating sites:
- Be suspicious of site users who ask for your home address under the guise of sending you flowers or gifts. Only give out your personal information online if you’re comfortable with the idea of total strangers showing up on your doorstep! Giving out your exact birthday is not a good idea as these vital information can be used against you.
- Always meet online contacts in public places – and not just on the first date. Your new love may not have your best interests at heart, but he or she may be well-versed in putting on a different public persona. Trust your gut instincts and make your get-togethers private only after your relationship is more established.
- Tell friends where you’re going and who you’re meeting with. It can seem like tedious overkill to send out a summary of dates, times and places to friends, but this type of information can be invaluable should the unthinkable happen to you.
- Always get as much information from a potential love interest and have the information verified by a professional private investigator before meeting them if possible.
One last type of online dating profile scam you’ll want to watch out for are computer hacking and “ransomware” attempts. In general, these threats are easy to detect, though they’re growing in quantity given the ease with which they can be sent. This increase in attacks recently led the FBI to issue a warning about the surge in dating site hacking attempts in its Internet Crime Complaints Center “Scam Alerts” bulletin.
Currently, there are two major types of computer hacking scams you need to be aware of on online dating websites:
- Traditional computer hacking activities involve sending a dating site contact a link that, when accessed, mines personal data, installs malware programs or locks down the computer until a “ransom” is paid.
- New “ransom ware” activities involve gathering sensitive information from online contacts (in particular, adult photographs or racy chat sessions) and then posting this content to sites with a ransom message indicating that it will only be taken down in exchange for a fee.
In both of these situations, it’s imperative that you use your common sense. Don’t click on links unless you’re absolutely certain that they point to legitimate sites, and don’t make any personal content available that you wouldn’t want to see distributed to other websites online. Exercising caution in both of these areas will go a long way towards keeping you and your computer safe from harm.
Unfortunately, even the savviest of internet users is at risk of falling victim to an online dating site scam. If you find yourself in this position, don’t hesitate to make your experience known by contacting your dating site, your financial institutions and your local authorities when applicable. You may also find it helpful to share your experiences on sites like www.RomanceScam.com. While getting the word out about your experiences won’t change the past, you can at least take satisfaction in knowing that you’re helping to keep other online users safe.