As Valentine’s Day approaches, millions of men and women turn to online dating to find companionship, meet their perfect matches, or just expand their dating pool. Most of the popular dating sites aren’t the only places that people meet online, but they typically have the best safeguards in place. Still, there are risks associated with Internet dating.
Online scammers prey on dating sites. They look to line their pockets with money bilked from the vulnerable. The FBI reports that fraud is booming, with most of the victims tending to be widowed or divorced women. The FBI also reports that most victims are computer literate and educated, but they are also emotionally vulnerable.
Con artists especially scam and troll social media and dating sites for potential victims, because users of these sites openly reveal specific details about their lives and personalities. These users are more susceptible to a con artist’s affirmations of love—and financial need.
According to the FBI, it’s standard operating procedure for romance scammers to assume other people’s identities to trick their victims. Special Agent Christine Beining, a veteran financial fraud investigator, says “[Scammers] make themselves out to be average-looking people. They are generally not trying to build themselves up too high.”
To protect your personal information and money from con artists, follow these tips to avoid being catfished:
Set some boundaries. Conceal your last name, e-mail address, and where you work until you’ve actually met. Don’t give out your social media accounts or anything that can trace them back to you. And be wary of admirers who ask about this information before you’ve exchanged pleasantries.
Remove tracking. There’s a new crop of GPS-based dating apps that automatically scan for potential mates through proximity and convenience. If you’re using a mobile app, turn off your location services so cons can’t decipher where you’re located.
Do a photo and e-mail search: When meeting new singles online, usually one of the first things you do is exchange photos. Use Google image search to check if your correspondent goes by another name or lives in a different city. If so, it’s an indication that may be lying to you about whom they really are. If you’ve been corresponding with someone by e-mail, cut and paste the text from one of their e-mails into Google and see if the words pop up on any romance scam sites. Consumer Reports advises to “check their address on a site such as romancescams.org, which compiles lists of e-mail addresses of known scammers. The website Scamalytics maintains a blacklist of scammers who use false pictures.
Verify that the person is real. Some other ways to check someone’s validity if you’re suspicious: Do a Google search with his or her name and “dating scam.” Look at LinkedIn pages, Twitter, Facebook and other social media profiles for specific information—work experience, cities lived in, etc. Use that information to get a sense of whether what you are being told aligns with the facts.
Be suspicious if you’re asked for money. This is the number one red flag. They’ll ask you to wire funds, set up a bank account, or say they need cash for a visa, a flight to the U.S., or even for “internet fees.” The FTC warns: Don’t send money to someone you met online for any reason. If your online sweetheart asks for money, you can expect it’s a scam.
Keep this in mind: If the request for funds is indeed a scam, it may be difficult if not impossible to ever recover the money.
Resources: FBI.gov, Consumer Reports, AARP