Finding love online is a hallmark of dating in the 21st century. Many happy couples now discover that spark online, whether it’s via an app or an online dating service.
But unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous people out there who are only too happy to take advantage of those looking to find love for their own financial gain.
According to UK Finance, there was a 20% increase in bank transfer fraud linked to romance scams in 2020 compared to 2019, with online romance fraud costing the UK more than £63m. These are chilling statistics and it’s never been a better time for people to start becoming more vigilant.
Thankfully, there are ways you can protect yourself in this age of digital dating. Chris Parker, founder of WhatIsMyIPAddress.com, reveals the warning signs that your online romance might actually be a scammer in disguise so you can protect yourself.
They ask you for money
While it might be normal to go Dutch on some drinks or a meal out on a date, there is no reason at all for your digital date to ask you for money.
If you are asked for any money at all, be on your guard. Scammers often use the foot-in-the-door technique with victims, initially asking for a small sum of money before increasing it gradually over time to a more sizable amount.
These requests for money are also couched in tragic circumstances — their family member is ill and they need money to visit them, for instance, or they were burgled and can’t afford to buy food that week. These are designed to induce sympathy, making it difficult to refuse.
They seem too good to be true
Does your online date share the same hobbies as you? Do they also love the same books and films as you? Do they use the same pop culture references you do?
Sophisticated online dating scammers often conduct comprehensive research into their targets, crafting a fake persona that complements your personality and making it easier to dupe you.
Of course, this in itself shouldn’t be an immediate red flag — there are some wonderful people out there, after all. But use your intuition: if someone seems too good to be true, they probably are.
They look impossibly attractive
Virtually every online dating scammer uses a photo or photos featuring an impossibly beautiful man or woman. This tactic taps into a person’s sense of self-worth, flattering potential victims into falling for their ploy.
Giveaway signs are people with flawless skin or hair, free from imperfections like moles, acne, or birthmarks, or perfectly-lit and posed photos. These photos are often lifted from elsewhere on the web, so do a quick reverse image search on Google to find out if your date’s photos are original and genuine.
They have no digital footprint
Conduct a quick search for your date on Google. If they lack such a digital footprint, there is a chance they aren’t who they say they are.
In this day and age, virtually everyone has a digital footprint. It’s almost impossible to use the internet and not leave some form of trace around the web, in the form of social media profiles, forum comments, work profiles, and so on.
That’s not to say that a lack of these traces is, in itself, a sign of a scam — some people are just cautious about the information they share online. But it is certainly a warning sign that should be taken into account when considering if your date is a scammer.
They are reluctant to do video calls
We are living in the age of Zoom. Even before the pandemic, video calls were the norm for people wanting to catch-up with friends and family.
This makes it even more concerning if your online date is reluctant to jump on a video call with you. They will likely invent all sorts of excuses to avoid going on camera and show their true likeness. It should go without saying that if your online date refuses to verify who they are with a simple Zoom call, they are likely a scammer.
They come on too strong, too early
Online scammers don’t waste time — if they think you are likely to fall for their ploy, they will declare their love for you after only a short period of time.
This approach is designed to flatter. Having someone profess their love for you is a compliment, and it’s easy to fall under the romantic spell as well.
Beyond this, instigating such a rapid development in your relationship also puts you on the back foot, preventing you from thinking too much about what your date’s actual motives are by sweeping you up in their gushing words of praise.
If your online date is coming on too strong, take pause — they might just be eager, but they may well be a scammer.
They live a long way from you
Online romance scammers are highly unlikely to live near you, or indeed even in the same country. This negates any possibility that you might be able to have an IRL meet, and therefore verifying your date in person.
Many scammers pose as jet-setting corporates or soldiers posted overseas. As well as adding to their glamour and excitement, this also gives them a solid excuse not to meet up in person.
As with other signs on this list, this is not a definite indicator of a dating scam in itself — many people enjoy long-distance relationships. But when combined with other red flags, it might be time to distance yourself from your digital date.
Being the victim of an online dating scam can be an embarrassing experience, even a sad one. Investing your time and emotions into someone only to find out you’ve been catfished can leave you feeling low — but there are ways to protect yourself.
Anyone can fall victim to an online dating scam, regardless of your gender. Bear the above tips in mind and steer clear of any unscrupulous scammers looking to exploit your feelings for their own gain.