In 2017, I created a video about romance scammer tactics and it has had over 60,000 views since. There’s clearly a need to repeat the warnings about common online dating scams, so let’s review the warning signs that may indicate that a romance scammer has contacted you or someone you know.
Online dating scams are a risk but they needn’t spoil your enjoyment of internet dating sites. Just as we don’t allow other forms of criminal activity to spoil other parts of our lives, as long as you take the necessary precautions there’s no reason to stop dating online.
Forwarned is forarmed. Make yourself aware of what to look out for when using an online dating site (or social media site) and you can play safe, avoid scammers, and without falling victim.
Online Dating Scammer Tactics – 1, 2, 3
Romance scammers use a tried and tested set of tactics to lure in their victims. Once you know what these are and how to spot the warning signs of a potential scammer you can break off communication before it’s too late.
In short, their methods are very simple:
- Cultivate and nurture emtional bonds with the target
- Gain their trust and affection
- Exploit the emotional bonds and the trust by asking for financial help
In essence, that’s all there is to it, so why do people continue to fall into the trap of an online dating scam?
To enter into romantic relationship inevitably means having to open oneself up, dropping one’s guard, and trusting that love and romance will blossom as a result. It’s this relaxing of the scepticism that normally protects an individual that makes them vulnerable to the devious attention of a dating scammer.
They may promise friendship, love, and romance, but months later they’ve taken all your money and your heart is broken. Worse, you feel shame and guilt for being gullible and trusting. Romance scams can have devastating consequences. It’s not just the financial and emtional impact, it can also have an adverse effect on your mental health and your ability to form happy and fulfilling relationships in the future.
A victim may not only empty their bank account but take out additional credit cards and loans if they are so emotionally ensnared by the romance scammer that they lose all sense of proportion and realism.
Do not assume that all victims of romance scammers are women. Men have been targetted too in exactly the same way. Although less common it’s nevertheless a reality and the embarrassment caused can prevent men from seeking help when facing financial ruin.
Society tends to judge the victims harshly. You only have to read the comments underneath the artilces when someone goes public about their distress, but such people are brave enough to step forward and tell their stories in order to prevent others from becoming victims. They should be applauded, not mocked.
When they ask you to send money in one form or another
It may take weeks, perhaps even months of grooming before the romance scammer feels to the time is right to ask for their victim to send money. Due to the investment of time and the potentially lucrative rewards, some romance scammers treat their activities like a business. They will groom several victims at once, obviously using multiple fake profiles on various dating sites.
After the grooming period, the victims believe they are in an online relationship with the criminals, building up to the day when they’ll eventually meet. They may have started to develop these emotional bonds by communicating using online dating apps and video chat only but sooner or later they’ll ask you to switch a communication method outside of the control of the dating site i.e. your mobile phone number or landline.
The online dating scams then move into the third stage. It may be a request to transfer money in order pay for a plane ticket so that the scammer can fly to meet to their victims but they never show up. When questioned they’ll make up a story about missing the flight and continue to the next story.
For example, this might be a request to send money for their child’s school books or medical bills. The child of course does not exist. They may ask you to send a cash reload card, gift cards, or some other sum through wire transfer.
They may ask you to wire money for customs fees, or even ask to you accept money on their behalf. To do this they will ask for your financial information, which puts you at risk of identity theft.
There are all kinds of ways in which they will apply emotional pressure for financial assistance.
The Tinder Swindler – An exceptional case
The Tinder Swindler stories were an exceptional example of romance scams since the criminal used international intrigue and the threat of danger to himself as a means to exploit the vulnerability of his victims. He did not hide behind fake profiles, although he did use a fake identity.
He also had other actors on the payroll to create this elaborate romance scam. It’s unusual for romance scammers have to these extras involved but given the sums involved you can see how he was able to finance such complex operation.
He displayed himself openly as part of the con, met his victims, and earned their affection and trust openly. He used the lure of a luxury lifestyle and, once the victim has been groomed into a trusting and emotionally attached, used his apparent vulnerability to persuade them to transfer money into his bank account.
The Tinder Swindler, Simon Leviev, was born Shimon Hayut. He served just 5 months of a 15 month sentence after his arrest in Greece having travelled on a fake passport. He was released in May 2020 and lives as a free man in his home country of Israel.
The Warning Signs
Some of the most common tactics used by romance scammers are:
- Using a fake profile. For obvious reasons dating scammers rarely used their real identity.
- Using images from a stock photo site. Does the profile photo itself or the collection of photos on their profile look real or do they look too professional to be the usual spontaneous snaps of a real person?
- Posing as military personnel or someone in the emergency services. These respected professions seem to generate more trust in others.
- Claiming to be from the US or UK, but living in another country. Scamming you online is made a little easier if you think they are from your home country.
- Asking for money for medical expenses, travel costs, or other reasons. This is the huge red flag that should stop you in your tracks.
- Saying they love you but can’t meet in person. They will usually avoid meeting you in person in order to maintain the scam for as long as possible.
- Claiming to be a widower or divorcee. This is another way of appealing to your sympathy.
- Asking for your address or phone number, saying it’s to meet in person. They may promise to travel to meet you but instead use your personal details to exploit you financially or threaten you if you should discover they are in fact a romance sammer.
- Suggesting that you trust them without meeting them after a relatively short period of time on the dating site, and then asking for money.
What you should do before joining a dating site
If you haven’t yet joined a dating site then you can put some precautions in place when creating your dating site profile.
Research dating sites and check out when you’ve found a few you like the look of, check out the dating site’s safety features and policies before signing up. It’s best to use a reputable company that has been around for several years. Sites run by large companies are more likely to offer strong security features than smaller ones. However, you don’t always need to use the biggest names in the online dating business. There are lots of smaller sites that have strong security and good customer service.
Keep your dating profile anonymous by using a handle that doesn’t give clues as to your real name or location. Use a different email address and phone number to the ones you use for other online accounts. You can also set your account to private so that only people you’ve approved can see your profile.
What you should do if you suspect you’re talking to a scammer
If you suspect that you’re talking to a scammer, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.
First, cease all communication immediately with the person. Don’t respond to any emails, phone calls, or text messages. Don’t respond to their attempts to contact you using instant messaging.
Due to the emotional bonds that have been formed, this is likely to be difficult which is why my second piece of advice is to confide in a trusted friend you know in person (not online), like a family member, or a friend you’ve known for years from school or work. They will be able to see the situation with a detached perspective and if they’re a good friend they’ll stop you from getting in any deeper.
Use Google’s reverse image search. The romance scammer may have used a profile image that was stolen from a real profile or some other legitimate bio of a person on a company site. If you can match the same image they it’s a huge warning that someone is scamming.
Report the crime and get advice from the authorities
You can also report the scammer to the Help Desk of the dating site or app you’re using, as well as to the, for example, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or whichever authority is appropriate in your country.
https://www.ic3.gov/Home/ComplaintChoice/default.aspx – Report cyber crimes in the USA to the FBI
http://www.actionfraud.police.uk – Report cyber crimes in the UK
http://www.scamwatch.gov.au – Report cyber crimes in Australia
http://www.consumeraffairs.com/online-dating-scams – Read more about cyber crimes
How to enjoy online dating safely and worry free
1. Never give your full contact details to anyone you’ve recently met using a site or a dating app.
2. Avoid sharing too much personal information, such as your home address or job location.
3. Meet in a public place for the first few dates and always tell a friend where you are and when you expect to be home.
4. Listen to your gut – if something doesn’t feel right, don’t go through with it. Sometimes your instinct is your best friend.
Online dating still works despite romance scams
Online dating has become a popular way to meet people of all ages and backgrounds, and while it’s true that online dating scams are a risk, the vast majority of people who use online dating sites are looking for sincere connections and relationships.
Marriages and entire families have resulted from online love and romance. We shouldn’t let the activities of a minority spoil what obviously works.
The history of the internet dating site
The history of internet dating can be traced back to the early days of the internet in the 1990s, when people first used websites and forums to find long-term relationships.
In the early 2000s, online dating began to gain mainstream popularity, and more people started using sites like Match.com and eHarmony.
Today, online dating is the most popular way to meet someone new, with more than one-third of marriages in the US being between couples who met online. Social media sites are another way in which strangers can look for a promising online suitor but the same precautions should apply whether you’re using a social media site, a small niche dating site, or one of the large well-established dating websites.
What is Tinder?
Tinder is a dating app that was launched in 2012. It is now available in over 40 languages and in 190 countries. Once you’ve added your profile, Tinder looks for people in your area who are also using the app. You can then see the person’s picture, age, and job. If you like the person, you swipe right. If you don’t like the person, you swipe left. If you both swipe right on each other, then it’s a match and you can start messaging each other.
Got a particular passion? Try a niche dating site
There are any number of niche dating sites that can help you find your perfect match. If you’re interested in finding someone with a specific interest, there’s probably a dating site for that.
For example, if you’re a pet lover, there are sites for that, or if you’re looking for someone with a specific religious affiliation, there are dating sites for every denomination imaginable.
Vanilla dating websites are the ones that don’t cater to any specific group or interest, but simply allow you to create a profile and search for other singles based on location and age range.
General advice about identity theft
While it’s possible that you may not lose money to romance scammer you may give away too much personal information and put yourself at risk of identity theft.
Identity theft is a serious crime that can have a lasting impact on your life. In addition to financial losses, you may also experience emotional distress and damage to your credit score. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft online.
One of the most important things you can do is create strong passwords and use unique passwords for each of your accounts. It’s also important to be cautious about where you share your personal information. If a website asks for too much information, or if the site looks suspicious, it’s best to avoid it.
You should also keep your computer security software up-to-date, and be careful when opening email attachments or clicking on links. If something seems suspicious,you can always give the company a call to see if they sent you the email.
Another good idea is to follow those same companies on social media. If something goes wrong with your account or if there’s been a data breach, they might let their customers know through Facebook or Twitter. You can also check out reviews from other users of a similar service, which could help you determine how reputable the company is. If you trust them, ask your friends if they’ve used the service and if they had a good experience with it.
However, some companies don’t like to admit publically that they’ve suffered a data breach as it can damage their reputation and their share prices, so you might want to follow some of the larger cyber security accounts and others who announces such breaches.