Online dating has come a long way since the early days of websites that paired lonely singles. What was once looked down upon as a shady corner of the Internet is now a multibillion-dollar industry. Couples meeting through legitimate online dating websites is far more commonplace than ever before.
Scammers are all too aware of this trend. They know that potential victims are eager for a relationship and may have had some disappointments in the past, which means fraudsters simply need to say all the right things to gain their trust.
Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself. You could be dating an online scammer when they:
- Get personal right away. One clear warning sign is someone who wants to get personal immediately, and find out your real name, address, phone number, workplace, or other details. While it’s natural to be curious about the person you’re talking to on a dating site or app, be sure to always guard your personal information closely.
- Sob stories. With more awareness of online privacy, scammers have to bide their time and be more careful about how they express their need for money. Instead of coming out and stating that they can’t pay their bills or have had a sudden bill come up, they’ll dole out the story bit-by-bit until the victim feels a connection. Other versions go so far as to actually set up a travel story in which the scammer is supposedly on his or her way to visit, but becomes stranded and needs money.
- An excuse for everything. Your match may be a scammer if they always have an excuse to meet in person. Even if you are being strung along with certain promises, there will always be a scenario that causes the proposed situation to not work out. If you start to notice that the excuses are piling up, listen to your instincts and be cautious.
- Scam bots. Common on dating apps, bots are sophisticated computer programs that mimic human speech and lure you into a false sense of security. The easy-to-spot bots will ask you to visit their webcam site or give you links to buy products. But some bots will often keep the conversation going for a long time and ask many personal questions. Once they have plenty of personal information, they’ll move in for the scam by asking you to visit a profile or click a “cool” link for something they’ve seen, unwittingly sending you to a malware or phishing site.
There is one rule that you must absolutely take to heart: never, ever give money, account information, or personal data to someone you meet online until you are absolutely certain this is a genuine individual with your best interests at heart. Also make sure you don’t join in any activities that seem even the least bit suspicious. The only way you can be sure you’re meeting someone who has the same interests and goals for the relationship that you do is to never have to question why you’re being asked to do something.
Eva Velasquez is CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.