With Valentine’s Day less than one week away, love is in the Cloud as millions of people are looking to meet their match online. However, Cupid isn’t the only one taking aim at people seeking love on dating apps during this time of year. Catfishers and scammers are on the prowl, taking advantage of those looking for love.
While catfishing seems harmless and even humorous at times, some of these fraudsters are no joke. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s 2019 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, dating scams increased by 50% from 2017 to 2019 with a total of 25,147 scams reported. Those who reported theft experienced losses seven times higher than other types of fraud.
Recognizing the red flags of romance scams
If you’re looking for love online this Valentine’s day, save yourself from heartbreak by recognizing common behaviors of the “sweetheart scammer”. If you only identify one red flag from a match, that may not necessarily mean you should sound the alarms, however, proceed with caution to keep your heart (and money) out of the hands of scammers.
Lookout for long-distance lovers
Many dating scammers are often overseas, luring unsuspecting online daters with fake profiles borrowed from other people’s social networking sites to create more attractive personas. Once an initial match is made, scammers will develop the relationship over time to build trust. After that trust is established, scammers will make up an elaborate story and ask for money, gifts or bank account and credit card details. Use caution if a person’s profile pictures all look like they’re from professional photoshoots and they can’t provide a single candid shot.
They’re just way too into you
Typically, dating fraudsters come on very strong. Watch out for matches who profess their love following a short period of interaction. After a couple of weeks exchanging messages, these scammers will offer to travel a great distance to meet you, only to cancel with a last-minute emergency. They request money to be wired to cover their emergency or flight to meet you, but after receiving the money, the scammer will disappear. This is a classic tale of romance scamming, and yet millions have fallen for it – and will continue to do so.
Don’t fall for Mr. Robot
Sometimes romance scammers sound like a robot – that’s because they are! If their responses to messages don’t quite match up to what you said, or if they send several links to visit another site, report the profile immediately. While the link may look legitimate, the sites will trick people into entering personal information such as payment data or will install malware on the person’s computer and will harvest sensitive information. The good news is these bots are easy to spot. One red flag to look out for is that their profile pictures tend to be low quality and most times are not even of the same person.
Protecting yourself from sweetheart scammers
Online daters should bear in mind that anyone can be deceived. While trusting your intuition is always a must, it doesn’t hurt to take extra steps to protect yourself from catfishers.
Leave a little to the imagination
While it may be tempting to rush into a relationship and share much of your life on the first date, if your date seems very interested in sensitive information, that’s a sign to change topics. If they continue to ask detailed questions centered around sensitive personal details, such as your mother’s maiden name, high school mascot, or the name of your first pet, it may be time to start looking for another match.
Do you come here often?
Matching with someone local might provide you with a feeling of familiarity, as you may frequent the same restaurants, theaters, and shops – but beware! With the availability of software that allows fraudsters to spoof or fake their location, the girl (or guy) next door might be hundreds of miles away. Another warning sign to be wary of is a match who always insists that they “want to see you in person” but refuses to use Skype or FaceTime. This is a reason why one should stick with more established dating websites that have the proper safeguards in place to identify and remove fake profiles – compared to smaller sites that lack similar security measures.
Take a sneak peek
While it may seem intrusive, it’s good to do a cursory search on potential dates to make sure their phone numbers, usernames, and social media profiles match the information provided on their profile. Running their dating photos through a reverse image search is another way to see if photos are stock images or have been reused on other fake profiles. Additionally, it’s always great to get the opinion of your close friends and family before getting too involved. An objective opinion from people who aren’t as emotionally invested in your love life is always helpful.
When it comes to love there will always be blind spots, especially when scammers work so hard to earn your trust. A last piece of advice if you’re online dating and already have an identity protection plan in place: see what scam assistance services your provider offers. Scam assistance services will do all the research for you and will let you know if the person vying for your attention is not who they say they are.
Ultimately, for those looking for love online this Valentine’s Day – trust your instincts, be on the lookout for any red flags, and keep your financial information to yourself (as you should do in any budding relationship). If you keep these tips in mind, you’ll stay scam-free this Valentine’s Day.