Action Fraud and the City of London Police have launched a new initiative that aims to separate cybercrime and fraud facts from fiction.
Dubbed “Urban Fraud Myths,” the thirteen day campaign kicked off with a look at online dating, a crime which swindled 3543 Brits out of £33.65 million ($51 million) in the last year.
Perhaps influenced by the approaching Halloween, the first in a scary-looking series of images puts forward one of the key myths about signing up to a dating site:
I can always trust the people I meet on online dating sites as they will have been vetted before being allowed to join.
And then counters it by presenting the reality:
Most dating websites allow people to sign up without vetting checks.
Always be cautious about the people you meet online, especially if they start asking for money to help a family member, to visit you or pay medical bills etc. Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don't know and trust.
That is sound advice, but we have more tips for staying safe when you use online dating sites.
1. Disclose as little personal information as possible
Would you tell a complete stranger where you live? Probably not, and so you shouldn’t give away such information on a dating site, or anywhere else on the web for that matter.
The same goes for your phone number, full name and even your Facebook profile which can, of course, give away a huge amount of personal information to anyone who cares to take a look at it (also read our 5 tips to make your Facebook account safer).
Of course there may come a time when you decide to meet in real life someone that you’ve chatted to online. Even then, it pays to be cautious about giving out personal information, at least at the beginning of your new friendship/relationship.
2. Look out for red flags
A lot of people take their time getting to really get to know a prospective partner before beginning a romantic relationship. For others, it can happen much quicker than that, but be wary of people on dating sites who say they are “in love” after just a few days of chatting.
If someone seems too keen, too soon, they may have an ulterior motive.
Likewise, if a potential date appears too good to be true, it may be that they are.
As much as everyone should be careful about the information they share on dating sites, and the internet at large, chances are that some data will be publicly accessible.
Use this to your advantage to see what you can learn about your would-be partner – consider using a Google image search to see if their profile picture is unique or lifted from elsewhere on the web (a lazy trick operated by many online fraudsters).
3. Don’t fall for advance fee fraud
Don’t take anyone you meet online at face value. If someone you’ve never met in real life asks you for money, don’t give it to them, irrespective of how you may feel about them or the stories they’ve told you.
Scammers are good at taking advantage of people’s kindness and will use any trick they can to separate you from your money – including asking for it up front to supposedly help get them out of trouble, an age-old scam known as “advance fee fraud.”
It doesn’t matter whether the person you are talking to needs money for the air fare to come and pay you a visit, or cash to pay medical bills, or is aserviceman in the military who needs help retrieving their property – all such requests are extremely likely to be fraudulent. So don’t fall for them.
4. Block/report abusers
Not everyone on a dating site is a good person, and some are downright dangerous – in addition to fraudsters, you may also encounter stalkers or abusive “trolls.”
If you are receiving abusive messages, report the offender and, if the site supports it, block them too so they cannot harass you any further.
5. Meet in a safe place
Now it’s time to meet the man or woman of your dreams for real.
It’s possible that this could be the riskiest part of the process by far.
Even though you think you know someone from chatting to them online, be aware that they may be completely different in real life.
As Action Fraud says, “Dating fraudsters are often particularly convincing.”
So don’t take any unnecessary risks.
Meet in a public place where there are plenty of people around who could come to your aid should things turn sour.
If you will be consuming alcohol, be aware of your limits and don’t drink so much that you lose control of the situation. It would also be wise to keep an eye on your glass or bottle to ensure no-one adds anything unexpected to it.
Tell a trusted friend or family member where you will be going and give them an idea of when you will be back.
If you want to be extra cautious, and don’t mind giving up a little privacy for the sake of security, consider enabling an app such as Find My iPhone orAndroid Device Manager on your phone which will allow your location to be tracked – just remember to turn it off again if you don’t want your best mate or mother knowing where you are at all times.
These are just a few examples of what you can do to improve your own personal safety and security when using dating sites and meeting people online.