Written by: Cally Worden
The online dating game is a great way to meet new people, but sadly not everyone out there is genuinely looking for love. Scam artists have identified online dating as a way to gain the trust of others as a means of exploitation.¬†Unsuspecting victims have been conned into parting with personal information, money and gifts. It’s important to protect yourself when looking for love and friendship online, so keep the following information in mind when contacting anyone via a dating website.
How Scam Artists Work
Most people who join the online dating community are looking to make a romantic connection with someone new. In order to achieve this it’s necessary to open up – about your life, your personality, your dreams and desires. Such exchanges of personal information rely on trust that the other person will respect your honesty and take from it only that which they need to make a decision about whether you could be a suitable partner for them. Scammers use this information purely for their own advantage.
Dating scammers are looking to earn your trust and can devote an extraordinary amount of time and effort to doing so. They may seek to gain your trust by expressing strong feelings for your fairly early on in your contact with them. You may find yourself showered with copious compliments and gifts. Such gestures are designed to give you confidence in the relationship with this person, so that when they suggest moving to the next stage – away from the website and onto personal messaging, email and telephone contact – you readily agree.
Once they have persuaded you to share simple personal details (such as your email address or telephone number) the scammers know that they have begun to earn your trust. They will build on this, gradually drawing out more and more information from you. Scammers are very adept at identifying your vulnerabilities and may play on these to start to create a sense of dependence from you on them and your relationship.
Taking it to the Next Level
Many, but not all, scammers claim to live overseas, the physical distance creating a natural safety net for them. Wherever they are based, when the time is right and they perceive you are sufficiently emotionally invested in the relationship they make their move. Initially they may directly, or more subtly seek your help with some small financial problem – their car is broken and they need to fix it so they can come and see you, but they have no money until the end of the month … sounds plausible, so you dig deep and lend them the money. They may pay it back, thus establishing further trust.
A while later you will find the financial problem becomes something much bigger. Perhaps they have funds trapped overseas and need a temporary loan from you until they can be released. Often they develop a serious illness, or claim to have had an accident for which they need help with medical costs.
It sounds mad, and in the cold light of day it’s hard to imagine yourself being drawn in. But when you care for someone you want to believe what they tell you, you will have a natural desire to help. You may have invested a lot of time and energy in the relationship and may be fearful of losing it. So you hand over the money willingly, only to find your dream partner never pays it back or asks for more, and finally disappears altogether. And because you have willingly given your money it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get it back.
To avoid falling for an online dating scam be mindful of the following warning signs that may alert you to the possibility that something isn’t right:
- You meet your new partner and find their appearance differs significantly from their online photo
- The person pushes early on to move communications away from the dating website on a more personal footing
- Once trust has been established some elaborate story is created that involves asking you for money, or your bank/credit card information
- If you resist giving money the communications may become more persistent, direct, or desperate (in the hope you will give in)
- The language used in written communications is not quite right
- The person is reluctant to share details of their family, friends, working life, place where they live. Or their back story is conveniently devoid of much detail – they have no close family, were orphaned, estranged from family, are new to their current location, are a private person with few friends
How you Can Protect Yourself
Online scammers can come across as very believable. One of the great things about looking for love is the belief that the right person is out there for you. Never forget that scammers will play on this willingness to believe that dreams do come true. They will aim to convince you that you are one of the lucky ones and you help them by wanting to believe it so much. Help to protect yourself:
- Maintain a healthy degree of suspicion alongside your desire to make a true connection
- Be cautious with how much personal information you share online – identity theft scams are as prevalent as money-making ones
- Never share financial details online, or agree to transfer money for another person (this is money laundering and is illegal)
- If you fear you are being scammed and have already handed bank details over to a third party contact your bank immediately
- Think twice and speak to a friend for a second opinion before sending anyone you meet online any money or gifts
- If you travel to visit someone you meet on line always tell someone where and when you are going, and remain in regular contact with them
Don’t be Put Off
There are many genuine individuals using dating websites, whose sole aim is to find a new relationship. Awareness of the scammers will help you to avoid them, so don’t be fearful of reaching out to possible partners online. If you allow fear to stop you may be missing out on an opportunity to meet the new love of your life. Online dating isn’t for everyone, but if it works for you keep your faith in the general goodness of human nature and don’t let the scammers rain on your parade.