Online Romance: Plenty of Fish in the Sea or Swimming in Dangerous Waters?
Valentine’s Day may be over, but dating website scams are not. And there’s no wonder why: Online dating is no longer seen as a last-ditch attempt at love. It’s grown into a $1.75 billion a year industry, one that has risen to include more than 49 million participants in the US alone.
Even more encouraging, recent data from Pew Research Center shows that attitudes about online dating—both from people who’ve tried it and people who haven’t—are shifting, giving the process a much more valid public perception.
But that validity doesn’t mean online daters are safe from potential scammers.
In fact, the Identity Theft Resource Center, which I lead, received several calls from victims just this month. In one case, 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. Now, the IRS wants him to pay the taxes on his 401(k), and he doesn’t have the money to do so.
Here are some of the highest profile scams that have directly affected online dating participants:
Money requests – 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. Interestingly, 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.”
Extortion – Some victims have reported falling for extortion, especially once the talk, shared photographs, or webcam chats turn intimate. Then the scammer lets the cat out of the bag and demands money not to share the content with the victim’s children, family members, friends, or co-workers.
So how can you look for love online while still protecting yourself against potential scammers? By following a few simple rules:
- 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 has safeguards in place to delete accounts if users are caught violating their terms.
- Be very mindful of the most common tactics, which include claims that they have out-of-town jobs, which may be used to explain why the other person can’t communicate with you regularly, but they’re actually covering up the fact that the scammer has 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 mean, 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.
LifeLock proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Editor’s note: This content was lightly edited and updated on Jan. 30, 2018.
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