5 Ways to spot an online-dating scammer
First of all, let’s stay positive. Online dating works. There are millions of singles online in the UK, seeking what we all look for: love, companionship and a long-term future. I met my gorgeous husband through online dating, and during the ten years I worked for Match.com, we successfully paired-up over 160 singles every day.
But now, let’s get wise: there are also thousands of scam artists online too, and that number is growing every year—as is the amount of money innocent daters are losing. Figures published by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau show a scary upward swing:
2013: There were 2,824 reports of dating scams, with reported losses of £27,344,814.
2014: There were 3,295 reports, and losses of £32,259,381.
2015: There were 3,363 reports, but the reported losses fell to £25,882,339.
2016: There were 3,889 reports, and losses of a record £39m.
It was thought that women were the main targets for online-dating scammers. But men are increasingly duped. Action Fraud, the UK's cyber-crime reporting centre, recently reported that almost 40 per cent of online-daters targeted in 2016 were men, most aged over 50.
The losses can be huge—financially, and emotionally. The average scam victim loses £10,000 but the mental scars can last a lifetime. As “Nancy”, a 47-year-old single Mum from Yorkshire, who lost over £300,000 to an online-dating scam, told the BBC: “Somebody's got inside your head, and they've just brutalised you emotionally. In some ways, I'm not sure I'll ever recover from that."
Most online-dating scammers live and operate abroad, so they are hard to prosecute. Plus, many victims are embarrassed to seek help from friends or the authorities until things have spiralled completely out of control.
To protect your heart, your pride and your bank balance, here are my definitive tips for spotting an online-dating scammer.
1. Check their photograph
Scammers usually steal good-looking people’s photos from social media, and use them as their own. If you’re suddenly approached by a model-esque hunk online, check their photo—preferably BEFORE you go booking the church. Copy the photo, then paste it into Google’s Reverse Image Search. If you see the image used in social media under a completely different name, you know it’s false.
2. Check their preferences
Online-dating scammers are the least picky people on the planet. Working in online-dating for over a decade, I’ve found most men search for women at LEAST 5 years younger than themselves, and usually closer to 10. Women usually search for partners around 2 years younger, to 12 years older. But with scammers, the sky’s the limit. Be suspicious of men and women whose profile says they’re open to contact from people 20 years or more away from their own age. They’re not a refreshing change—they’re liars, trying to cast their net as wide as possible. Also, try to date people who live close to you. Most scammers live abroad, so they invent a cover story for that: they claim to be in the Armed Forces, or working overseas, or even engaged in secretive missions they can’t discuss. If you receive a message from someone in another country, say you’ll look forward to hearing from them when they’re back here for good.
3. Check their grammar
English isn’t always the first language of scammers—it’s usually about the third or fourth. So their spelling and grammar won’t be great, and they SOMETIMES GET TOO HEAVY WITH THEIR CAPITALS. Also, scammers often work in teams, with several different people all hiding behind one identity. So if your online correspondent’s writing style seems to be strangely inconsistent, be suspicious.
4. Check their desire to move things off the dating site
Most online-dating sites have customer care teams that will respond to reports of strange behaviour. They can also check individual profiles and watch for unusual activity (such as someone sending the same message to 50 people). Scammers don’t want you to be protected, so they’ll always encourage you to move onto personal communication straight away. They’ll use excuses like, “My membership’s about to expire,” or, “It’s not easy for me to log in here every day.” I say—tough. Until you’ve met in person, ALWAYS communicate only through the site, and don’t give out your real address, email address or phone number.
5. Check out how passionate they are
Online-dating scammers are charming. You’re not foolish if you fall for one—they are the most practised chat-up artists the world has ever known. But do be careful when you met someone online who claims to have fallen for you, before you’ve met in person. Most people take things slowly; scammers rush in. They will claim to have a “bond” with you, you’re their “soulmate”, they’ve “never felt this way before”. They’ll talk future, marriage, families—whatever you need to hear. Please be cynical, until you’ve met in person. If you want an external view, show some of the messages to a friend and ask them to be honest.
And of course, the number-one sign you’ve met a scammer: you’ll receive a request for money. It might take weeks or months, but it will arrive. And you will always feel bad for saying no. But you should still always say no. Ideally, send all details of the person to the police and the online-dating site. The more scammers you can help to shut down, the sooner you’ll meet the real people who are looking for love, not cash.
For more details of staying safe online, check out all the great, useful advice from the Online Dating Association.
You can read more from Kate on her website
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