1 Know how dating scams work
Scammers typically create fake online profiles designed to lure you in, either using a fictional name or falsely adopting the identities of real people.
Dating and romance scammers will express strong emotions for you in a relatively short period of time, and usually suggest you move the relationship away from the website to a more private channel, such as phone, email or instant messaging.
Online dating scams aren’t only financially destructive: they’re also a very emotionally painful experience.
Here are some ways to spot an online dating scam:
- They want to communicate with you through instant messaging and texts rather than through the dating website where you met.
- The new love of your life has supermodel good looks in the pictures they send you.
- They express strong emotions for you in a very short space of time.
- They ask you lots of questions about yourself but don’t tell you much about themselves.
- They start asking you to send them money.
Scammers will go to great lengths to gain your interest and trust, such as showering you with loving words, sharing apparently personal information and sometimes even sending you gifts.
They may take several months to build what may feel like the romance of a lifetime and can even pretend to book travel to visit you, but they never actually arrive.
Once they have gained your trust and your defences are down, they will ask you, either subtly or directly, for money, gifts, or your banking or credit card details.
Often, scammers will pretend that they need the money for some sort of personal emergency or insist they need the money to travel to visit you.
2 Check if it’s a real profile
Check to make sure the profile picture looks realistic. Professional photos should be a red flag. Look for amateur photos and check if they have more than one.
A helpful Which? member recommended using tineye.com to check the legitimacy of profile pictures on dating websites.
This website allows you to upload photographs and uses recognition technology to see if there are matches to the photo anywhere else on the internet.
Check that the profile on the dating website is consistent with what you’ve been told. For example, make sure the profile picture doesn’t look different to their description of themselves.
Another tell-tale sign is language. Has your ‘date’ told you they are university educated, but their English is very poor?
How do you spot fake profiles?
We asked 1,000 dating-website users how they identify fake profiles, and they told us they are suspicious if:
- they ask you to send them money (50%)
- they ask you for too much personal information (41%)
- they use poor grammar or language, despite claiming to be a native speaker (40%)
- you’re invited to connect on a different website (36%)
- they ‘fall in love’ with you too quickly (33%).
Half of respondents also said that they trust their gut feeling when identifying a fake profile.
3 Don’t share personal details
If you’re talking to someone you’ve contacted online, be careful not to share your personal information.
This includes credit card details and details such as which bank you’re with, your pet’s name or your mother’s maiden name, which could be used to access financial information.
In your profile, don’t include your last name, email address, home address, phone number, place of work or any other identifying information.
4 Beware of moving too fast
Watch out for someone who wants to rush things. A fraudster will usually make the first move, and this will often come out of the blue.
Sometimes they will create a bogus, dreamy profile that sounds like the ideal mate you’ve described in your own dating profile.
They will try to play on your sympathy and strike when you are the most vulnerable.
Red flags should be raised if they want you to use instant messaging or email very soon after initially making contact, taking you away from the dating site where you originally met.
And be wary if someone online, after a short time of corresponding, professes strong feelings for you and asks to chat with you privately.
Always create and use a unique email address different from your personal or professional addresses when setting up a dating website profile.
5 Don’t give them money
We would advise you to never send money to anyone you meet through an online dating website, no matter how convincing they appear to be.
And you certainly shouldn’t wire money to anybody, as there’s no audit trail. It’s like handing over cash – you won’t be able to get it back if it turns out to be a scam.
Fraudsters who are just looking after your money can appear desperate if you don’t send it straight away, and their emails or calls will become more persistent, direct or even aggressive.
And if you do send money, they will just keep asking you to send more, as they will view you as an ‘easy target’.
If anyone does ask you for money, alarm bells should ring immediately, and you should report this to the dating website.
Finally, never click on a link within an email, as this could be an email phishing scam also intended to extract money from you in some way.
6 Report fake online profiles
Our research found that almost two thirds of fake profiles reported to dating websites are blocked or removed.
Common fake profiles will use the details of trusted individuals, such as military personnel, aid workers, medical professionals or professionals working abroad, as well as pictures from other legitimate websites.
Be alert for anybody you’re talking to who disappears from the site and you suspect may later have reappeared under a different name.
Different websites have different policies for reporting profiles, although not all of them vet profiles or moderate content.
If you think a profile is fake or suspicious, check the website for details on how to report it and follow the process.
Usually, there will be links or buttons on profiles to block or report individuals.
Let people know
Don’t be afraid to tell people you trust that you’re talking to someone online – more than six million UK adults visit dating sites each month. Let someone know if you’re asked for money. The objective viewpoint they can offer is crucial if you’re emotionally involved.
7 Report dating website scams
If you’ve been scammed for money from someone you met online, inform the website immediately.
Also consider contacting the police to report it. You should also report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and crime reporting centre.
Dating websites usually aren’t liable for losses you incur while using them, unless you can argue that the service wasn’t provided with reasonable care and skill, or there were checks the website said it would carry out and didn’t.
For more tips, see our guide to reporting a scam.
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