Romance Fraud – How To Avoid Online Dating Scams

Online dating is a big interest for many internet users and is a large business industry at the same time. As such, it is a target for scams which are executed through different websites or apps. Social networking websites, online dating websites, mobile apps and text messaging apps are all great platforms for the perpetrator.

Predators hunt where the prey is. The bigger the number of prey, the better the potential for for the prey to become a victim. After gaining the affection of their marked victims, fraudsters might target the victim’s bank account, personal identification or use them to commit fraud for other purposes such as money laundering.

Looking for a partner online is not any different than any other search – search for a house, a second-hand car, a new mobile phone or any other similarities. In one simple, yet important detail, they have a common point: there always will be some people who will try to take your wallet on a date, not you.

In some cases the dating scams are advanced and the victim is being used to gain citizenship in a certain country by the perpetrator. Fortunately, most dating scams are easy to identify once you cross-reference the information you’re provided with. This guide focuses on all types of dating scams and how to avoid them.

Scammer May Obtain The Following:

  • Money (excuses include paying for airfare, visas, medical costs, travel documents, legal papers…).
  • Citizenship/residency in a country (long-term scams).
  • Personal information from their victims (and later abuse this information).

Top Red Flags For Online Dating Scams

In order to avoid dating fraud, your common sense should stay alert and prevent you from going to the wrong neighborhood. The majority of con artists in online dating are female or pretend to be one. Be aware of the fact that there are some individuals out there who may try to extract from you some amount in cash playing on your feelings, but you should not become paranoid about it.

1) Model Looking

If your romantic interest looks like a model or a highly attractive person, this is one of the main giveaways you could be dealing with a fake profile. Typically scammers use glamour model pictures and sometimes actual images of highly attractive people they stole from the internet. If the person looks too good to be true or too inviting, you’re probably dealing with a fake profile.

TIP: A “Google Reverse” search for the image can pull up other websites where the image exists on the internet. Profiles that are real tend to leave other contact information where you can look them up such as Instagram, Facebook in addition to their basic profile information.

2) Fast Escalation

Most first messages on dating websites are… well, awkward. It’s natural and human to not have a perfect start. If your match seems too confident and makes an attempt to lead you to another website or app, this is a sign they’re a catfish trying to sign you up for a 3rd party service. Their motivation to do this is because they get a comission for signing you up.

The first thing scammers do when they initiate contact is escalate the conversation and try to lure the person to a 3rd party website or service. The scammers do it under the excuse they don’t feel comfortable communicating on that website. They usually lure victims to shady apps, games or online services. Be wary of messages that don’t have a human element to them.

3) Inconsistent Profiles

Scammers that are good at what they do tend to have multiple profiles prepared in advance. Many scammers use Instagram or Facebook profiles where they lure in victims to get them to sign up for websites or pay money once they engage contact on that social media.

They do this to establish themselves as real profiles, however, usually their followers are a giveaway. If the profile does not have pictures and links to other profiles from their personal friend circle, you’re likely dealing with a fake. On real profiles you’ll find comments from friends and family. If they have no personal details or friend/family connections on social media, this should raise red flags in your head.

4) Love Confessions

Scammers rely on getting the victim hooked emotionally and this is usually for scams that take many months to develop. Advanced scammers build emotional leverage to make their victims do things such as send money, reveal personal details or make transfers they usually wouldn’t under normal circumstances.

If your match is professing eternal love after only 2 days of talking to you online and if you’re getting showered with compliments and messages, you might be dealing with a scammer. Be wary of online matches who seem desperate for your attention and are keen on professing love immediately.

5) Request for Money

The most certain red flag you’re dealing with a scammer is being asked for money. The primary targets of these scams are men from wealthy developed countries who date women from undeveloped countries. The excuse these women make is that they don’t have sufficient funds to book airfare to their country and they convince them to transfer money to the tune of thousands of dollars.

NOTE: Advanced scammers take 3-6 months to build up trust, and the girls are professional scammers who specialize in luring men in romantically. Some of them do this everyday as a “full time job”. Once these men send the money, they typically never hear from them again.

If you refuse to send money after they ask for it, they will typically become desperate and pushy. If you send them some money they will typically make up excuses and ask for more money. This is a certain sign you’re dealing with a scammer.

7) Avoidance

The last red flag which is common when the victim and perpetrator reside in the same country is that they refuse to meet in real life. If you ask for a real-life meet up, most scammers will start making up excuses and avoid having any real-life contact. This is because they’re usually not who they claim to be.

If the person promises to meet you in real life but always finds a reason to cancel, they’re likely a fake profile. Be wary of any potential dates in your area who refuse to meet even after weeks of talking online.

Things To Do If You Encounter A Dating Scam

Reverse Search The Profile Photo

Many scammers use images they get from famous people, Instagram models or real profiles from social networks such as Facebook. Google has a feature called “Reverse Image Search” which can compare the image to millions of other images circulating on the internet. If the scammer is using a fake, Google will quickly detect it and show you numerous links to the real person.

If you’re on your phone you might not be able to reverse-search the image due to low image resolution, especially with apps that mix images in with descriptions. We recommend cropping the image out of the full screenshot and then running the search to determine if you’re dealing with a fake. This feature can identify all images circulating on the internet – not just famous people.

Analyze Inconsistencies

Take a look at the picture and check whether the background matches your city. People who appear on apps like Tinder will be located within a 150 mile radius and take pictures near recognizable landmarks or backgrounds that typically resemble the streets of your city, so double-check to make sure they add up.

Does the interior of their apartment/house match a typical interior in your city? Do they dress like locals? Do they leave references to local events and culture? Make sure the pictures are not extracted from a model’s Instagram profile.

Tip: Get personal. Ask the match questions about their personal life that only a real person could answer. If you’re talking to a bot or a scammer, they will either prepare automated messages or they’ll have trouble to answer the questions. Don’t be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions or contact details such as their social media in order to verify they’re real.

Check Social Media Profiles

Most people leave a second contact option such as Instagram, Facebook, Email, etc. Go visit their Instagram and check whether the account has existed for longer than a year. Typically scammer’s accounts tend to be brand new while real accounts have progression over the course of many years.

Most people upload pictures with their friends and/or travel which you can check to verify they’re real. If the person appears on another profile with their friends and family, it’s most likely the profile is real. Check the followers to make sure they match up their friend circle and not other people from the dating site. The best scammers will be actively scamming dozens of men at the same time.

Un-Match The Person

If you suspect that you’re talking to a bot you should un-match them. It’s that easy. You know deep down that you’re dealing with a swindler if you’ve done the research and things don’t seem to add up, so you might as well cut your losses early. Don’t get hung up emotionally only because they respond well.

Tell the person you suspect they’re fake and they’ll go out their way to prove you wrong. If they’re real and they actually care for you, they’ll go out their way to prove they’re real including engaging in a live chat with you over FaceTime or Skype. If they refuse to do this you have confirmation you’re dealing with a scammer and you can cut them out right away. Don’t just believe a person if she or he tells you they are shy.

Report The Scammer

Some apps such have less bots then the others, because they have good detecting algorhitms and human moderators who work fast and clean the app on a 24/7 basis. Still, it is impossible to catch everyone fast. Users of less popular websites where moderation is less-frequent are subjected to scams even easier.

Most apps and websites have a “Report” button where you can report if you feel fishy about a person. If the person leaves links in the description of their profile or they send you a link in the messages, you can instantly report them and get them removed from the app/website.

Top Things To Avoid Doing

Send Nude Photos

Most victims are lured in to send nude photos over dating apps after the perpetrator shows sexual interest in them. This usually leads them to send sensitive photos which can later be tied back to their real identity and used for extortion purposes. Be wary of sending sexual content to people you haven’t met in real life.

Scammers target influential men who are married or hold powerful positions which they later extort for serious cash. Even if you currently don’t care about your photos leaking online, one day you make it to a powerful position and people could have leverage on you. Refuse to send nude photos to people you’ve recently talked to.

Bond Too Fast

If you’re convinced the person is real because you were the one who sent the first message, you might get too confident and forget to double-check their identity.

Example: You send the first message, exchange a few compliments and start flirting. This gives you a false sense of confidence that you’re talking to a real person.

At this point you’re already convinced they’re real and forget to ask them personal questions or secondary contact (social media, phone, etc). Remember that until you ask, you have zero reassurance you’re talking to a real person. Never get emotionally invested with a person you don’t know and double-check their identity to ensure you’re not wasting your time.

Reveal Personal Information

Revealing personal information could be used to steal your identity or for extortion purposes. Avoid revealing personal details such as: work place, address, college, work positions, net worth, family-related details, or anything you wouldn’t reveal to a stranger. Never send personal ID documents.

Sophisticated scammers target people by engaging them on a personal basis and exploiting their weak side. Only reveal personal information once you’ve confirmed the person you’re talking to is a genuine person who you can trust.

Send Cash

Refuse to send cash of any kind no matter how much you trust the person. The most advanced scams are executed with actual people. Once you’ve gotten confirmation the person is real and you’ve bonded them over a period of many months, they might request cash from you and ask you to send it in order to meet you. All requests for money should be treated as a scam-attempt.

Refuse to send any money for flights, visa sponsoring or personal documents to people you haven’t met in real life. The only way to be sure you’re not being scammed is to fly to the country and meet them in person. If you’re convinced they need help getting to your country, help them out. Never send money to people you’ve been communicating online without meeting prior in real life.

Make Transfers

In some cases the scammers don’t ask for money directly but they ask you to transfer money for them such as between services. They would sent the money to you and you would forward it to someone else. Be wary of this as money laundering is a criminal offense and you might be laundering money for a person without even knowing it.

Scammers might ask you to transfer money to a certain account and come up with many excuses such as medical problems, helping family, etc. Refuse to help them with money transfers and never give your personal identification documents which may be used without your knowledge.

How To Spot A Catfish (Fake Profile)

Catfishing is impersonating personas on dating sites. A catfish is typically a profile made to seem real in order to engage victims for dating scams. Usually this is a less-sophisticated scam as the person does not form a long-term relationship with the victim to extract them for money, but they use them for short-term profits by making victims sign-up for websites, games and various online services.

Catfishing scams exist on all dating websites and apps. Catfish accounts are typically ran by real people i.e. trained scammers who engage with victims personally. They’re not like bots that reply automatically but they can hold a genuine conversation with the victim. A catfish will simulate a real conversation and ask a person to either send money or sign up for a website or an online game.

Example: The catfish profile might ask a victim to register for an online game in order to play with them or download an app in order to live chat with them. They lure victims to 3rd party websites and apps where they make them sign up. They get a profit from each member they sign up for these games and services, and in some cases the victims get charged on their credit card once they sign up.

The main advantage catfishes have over bots is that they’re hard to spot. These scammers take real pictures from genuine profiles on the internet and it makes them hard to identify via Reverse Search. They’re also capable of holding real conversations which makes the victims feel confident.

Sign #1) Professional & Suggestive Photos

Most catfish accounts will have professional photos as if they’re models. Stay away from profiles that have a glamorous appeal to them, unless they directly link to other social media where you can confirm it’s the actual person. If the photos do not look like models, but are “very suggestive”, this is also a sign of a potential catfish. Most genuine people on dating sites upload normal photos.

Sign #2) Instructions In Bio

The fastest way to identify a catfish is to spot instructions in the bio. Usually catfish accounts will say “Message me on Snapchat” or “Add me on Instagram” where the victims try to get in touch with the catfish, but those social media accounts lead to paid websites or 3rd party apps to download.

In a more sophisticated catfish, they will instruct you to add them on a website directly. Genuine profiles will rarely instruct their matches to sign up for a website or add them on social media.

Sign #3) Non-Authentic Conversation

The conversation has to have a human element to pass. If you compliment the match, notice how they react: Are they overwhelmed by your compliment or do they just say “Thank you”? Is there an awkward element to the conversation, as would naturally unfold between men and women in a real-life or does it feel like the person is warming up to you a lot faster than usual?

Learn to separate real conversations from fake ones that go too smoothly. Catfish pros will give an easy time and even initiate the flirting with you. One way to get better at this is to communicate with more potential matches.

Conclusion

Dating fraud is not an invention of the internet, nor is it new to this world. It is as old as mankind is. What Internet has brought new is the possibility of using instant typing to express feelings. This requires much less acting skills than face-to-face communication.

Even a phone conversation can give you more clues of what’s really going on, but many times a direct conversation is avoided for rather obvious reasons.

There are many variations on the same basic scam. Usually the trick is to tell you a story on why you need to send money or perform a certain action. 

If you begin corresponding with a person with a view to a possible romantic relationship, remain cautious even if the relationship seems to be progressing very well. These scammers are very skilled at building trust and know how to make vulnerable victims fall in love with them.

Regardless of the strength of your feelings towards the person you are corresponding with, you should view any unusual requests as highly suspicious.

Scammers use similar patterns or even same names and other personal information again and again. Therefore, you may even be able to expose a scam by conducting searches through google on the names used by the scammers or key phrases from their correspondation.

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