Online Romance: How to Protect Yourself Against Online Dating Scams
Valentine’s Day comes once a year, but dating website scams seem to never end. That may come as no surprise since tens of millions of U.S. singles have tried online dating.
Online daters can be vulnerable to potential scammers.
In fact, the Identity Theft Resource Center, which I lead, has received calls from victims of online dating scams. In one instance, a male victim met someone through an online dating service. The man first gave this “woman” money because she said her family was sick and needed help with medical bills. Over the course of three years, the man emptied his 401(k) retirement account, which totaled more than $100,000. Later, the IRS wanted him to pay the taxes on his 401(k), and he didn’t have the money to do so.
Types of online dating scams
Here are two of the highest profile scams that have directly affected online dating participants:
Horror stories about romance scammers who use sweet talk to steal money from their victims are all too common. In fact, they’re probably the first thing that crosses people’s minds when they think of the pitfalls of online dating.
Many of these scams are rampant on social media platforms, not just dating sites. That means you could become a victim even if you’re not an active member in the “dating scene.”
Some victims have reported falling for extortion, especially once the talk, shared photographs, or webcam chats turn intimate.
What happens next? The scammer lets the cat out of the bag and demands money in exchange for not sharing the content with the victim’s children, family members, friends, or co-workers.
5 rules to help protect against online dating scams
So how can you look for love online while still protecting yourself against potential scammers? Start by following a few simple rules:
1. Stick to the website
Don’t take the conversation to a platform outside the dating website, at least not until you have adequate reason to trust this person. The dating site you use should have safeguards in place to delete accounts if users are caught violating their terms.
2. Watch out for tricks
Be mindful of some of the most common tactics which might include, for example, the other person claiming that they have an out-of-town job, to explain why they can’t communicate with you regularly, but the scammer is actually covering up the fact that they have to balance out the time they are giving to other victims. It’s also a built-in excuse to ask you for money, such as being deployed and unable to access their bank account.
3. Hold on to your money
Never agree to give or move money, or other property, for anyone you meet online. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been chatting. If the other party needs money and has no other “real life” means of getting it, this could be a warning sign of someone you should not be associating with.
4. Beware of fast-forward
Be mindful of flattery, pet names, and promises of lifelong romance that come far too soon in a relationship. Remember, in “real life” you’d likely run away from someone who started talking about marriage by your third date, so there’s even more reason to be cautious of someone who’s too quick to latch onto you over the internet.
5. Take time to think
Trust your friends and family. If the people around you are worried for you, that doesn’t mean you have to drop the online friendship. It does signal, though, that you may be a little too blinded by affection to see what so many other people are seeing. Just stop and think for a while, go back and look through your messages to each other, and proceed with caution.
Few things in life are as wonderful as falling in love. But before you let someone steal your heart online, make sure they’re not really after your bank account or your identity.
Want to learn more? Check out this graphic for statistics related to online dating scams, as well as more tips for how to help protect yourself in the online-dating world.
Eva Velasquez is president/CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. LifeLock provides financial support to the center.
This article was updated and lightly edited on Feb. 8, 2019.
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