Helpful Tips to Avoid Scammers and Bots on Dating Profiles
Scams work by taking advantage of people’s pre-existing weaknesses — their fears, their prejudices and their deepest insecurities. It shouldn’t be a surprise that love is an area where scamming thrives, and with the rise of online dating, people are more inclined to fall for a digital avatar before they meet the person behind it. Basically, scammers have hit the gold mine.
According to the FTC, Americans lost $143 million to online dating scams in 2018, making digital dating scams the leading source of fraud in contemporary American life from a raw dollar-amount perspective.
So what can you, a prospective online dater, do in this situation that doesn’t involve tossing your digital devices in the trash? As it turns out, there are a few rules of thumb to abide by that will significantly cut down on the likeliness that you’ll be swindled at all, let alone lose any money.
RELATED: The Safest and Most Dangerous U.S. States for Online Daters
Here’s what you need to know about online dating scams:
1. How Online Scammers Operate
Scammers make use of the massive popularity of online dating to defraud people of their money by posing as potential dating or relationship prospects.
At the heart of an online dating scam is the notion that today, people are ready and willing to form emotional connections with people they haven’t met, often with only photos and direct messages, emails and texts to go off of.
“Although it’s commonplace to meet people online, there are always risks associated with dating people you don’t know,” says Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer for background check site BeenVerified.com. “You might end up connecting with someone who has a fake profile and is more interested in scamming you rather than having a relationship with you.”
Their ultimate goal? Financial gain.
“An online scammer will ‘fall in love’ quickly and start asking for money to be wired for airline tickets to meet in person (which never actually happens), a family emergency, and more,” he adds. “However, once the money is wired, they just continue to ask for more — or disappear altogether.”
While this can happen to people of any age, gender, race or sexual preference, there are certain hallmarks of scams targeting men.
“[These scammers] operate by preying on men who are seeking love and not readily finding it,” says Michael Lai, CEO and co-founder of Sitejabber.com, which allows you to rate different websites. “A common tactic is they are the first to message a man or ‘like’ them. Their profiles are often filled with photos of gorgeous women and their hobbies are what every guy dreams of in a woman (watching football, playing video games, etc).”
Of course, sometimes the scam is simpler — pretending to be attracted to you in order to get small sums of money.
“One of the most common tactics used nowadays is getting the man to be interested in a girl who always lives far away so there is no real chance of meeting,” says Lai. “Then the girl will say they want to video chat instead, but of course they are really a webcam girl, and it will cost money to be able to chat with them (nude, of course).”
There’s also the possibility of it being a bot instead of a real person on the other end, too.
2. What to Look Out For
Knowing that scammers are out there looking to take your money won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to recognize when you’re being duped. To help with that, here are a few common threads to look out for when it comes to online dating scammers.
They Ask You for Money
First and foremost, scammers are people who are trying to take your money. Anything they say or do while interacting with you will simply be a step towards the end goal of stealing your cash — that’s what defines online dating scamming.
“It’s a big red flag if your online interest asks you for money, especially if it’s early on and you’ve never met face-to-face,” says Lavelle. “Scammers will often have a sob story and ask for money on behalf of a sick relative, a short-term loan to pay rent or travel money to visit you if [they live] out of state. But some are more calculating and patient, waiting to ask for money until they believe they have you emotionally invested in the relationship.”
It’s possible, of course, that a request for money is genuine … but if you’ve never met in person, odds are good that it’s a scam, no matter how real your connection feels.
They Won’t Meet in Person
Along with asking for money, refusing to meet in person is an extremely big tell. That’s not to say that anyone who doesn’t want to meet up is a scammer, or that every scammer will refuse to meet up — but the two often go hand-in-hand.
“Be careful if they avoid meeting you, especially if they say they will be out of the country,” warns Lavelle. “There’s a reason that scammers don’t want to meet face-to-face. If they’re running a game, they will come up with all kinds of excuses to avoid meeting: work, family illness, too far to travel or possibly a shared custody situation.”
Rather than flat-out refuse, however, they will keep you hoping.
“They may set up a time to meet only to always bail at the last minute due to a ‘cancelled flight’ or ‘sudden change of plans,’” he adds.
They Avoid Phone Calls, Video Chats and Photos
Similarly, they’ll likely want to shy away from any form of communication that’ll reveal their real face or voice, since they’re typically not who they say they are. That means phone calls are often off the table, and video chatting is almost certainly not going to happen.
“While being a little nervous for someone you’ve been talking to online for months is normal, it’s not normal to avoid video chatting at all costs,” says Carlee Linden, online dating expert for BestCompany’s online dating blog. “Scammers will often set up a time to call and fail to answer when the time comes. Their excuses will range from the reasonable to the unbelievable (like they were robbed and mugged and that’s why they missed the call). Be extremely cautious if this has happened multiple times.”
Getting them to send photos can be tricky, too. They might be happy to send some on their terms, but refuse to if you make a request for them to do something specific as they might not have any photos of the person they’re impersonating that would fit.
They Come on Very Strong
One of the most powerful aspects of an online dating scam is making the victim feel loved. Once the scammer has you in a state of blissful romance, you’re easier to dupe and more likely to go out of your way to provide any requested funds.
As a result, they’ll often come on strong right away, looking for people who are love-starved that will respond to this kind of treatment.
“[Be on your guard if] they call you ‘dear’ or ‘sweetie’ up front. Using pet names right away could indicate that a scammer is trying to hastily forge an emotional connection,” notes Lavelle. “They [will] text or call a lot, and move way too fast. Maybe they’re eager, or they’re moving quickly because they’re actually a scammer and need to speed up their long con to get to their next target.”
They Pressure You to Switch to Email
While it’s normal to want to move from a dating site or app to more personal communication like texting or emailing, scammers will often pressure you to switch to email early on — which is part of their ploy.
“Scammers don’t like staying on dating sites because it means your attention isn’t wholly on them,” says Linden. “If you’re on a dating site, that means you’re talking to other people and are less likely to give your whole heart over to them. Another reason they’ll want to leave the site is that they’re messaging hundreds of other users, and someone might report them and get them kicked off the site.”
They Seem Too Good to Be True
In order to ensure that they snag the most victims possible, scammers will try to put together broadly appealing profiles, using beautiful photos and potentially unrealistic details about themselves.
“If someone is model-like in appearance and their photos are too perfect, it could be because a catfisher stole those photos,” says Lavelle. “Similarly, if your match claims to be in a high-paying profession like medicine or law (each of which entail local admissions or certifications), you’ll want to investigate that before thinking you’ve bagged a rich partner.”
They might even let it be known that they have too-good-to-be-true connections, which as Lavelle notes, could be a way to lure you in.
“Some [people] get star-struck and might continue in conversation with someone they aren’t interested in if there is hope of meeting someone rich and famous,” he adds.
3. How to Protect Yourself
So how can you protect yourself from being scammed? Here are some pro tips to help keep you scam-free:
Ask to Meet Early On
“The easiest way to be sure if someone is real is to physically meet them,” advises Lai. “Most of the scammers won’t ever meet you, as they are not even in the same state or country sometimes. The problem is that some men are just not meeting the girl of their dreams locally, so they believe the girl they want just happens to live far away.”
Do Some Background Research
“Research as much as you can about the person as early as possible before you meet,” suggests Lavelle. “Be your own private investigator by doing online searches to confirm your match’s key information. Search their name on Google and see what comes up. If you’re especially concerned, you can do a public records search or enlist the help of a background checking service.”
As well, life coach and career coach Gabrielle Collard suggests using some basic free technology at your disposal: reverse image search. “Use their photo to do an image search on Google. Basically, instead of searching with text, you upload an image and Google will find websites that contain the same or similar images. See what comes up … do the results match with what [they’ve] told you?”
Switch Up the Conversation Occasionally
“When chatting online, make sure the flow of conversation makes sense to ascertain if you’re talking to a live person or a robot profile,” says Lavelle. “Mix up the conversation; see if the person continues to track with you. If they’re unable to switch gears, it could be a robot responder giving predetermined responses.”
Be Suspicious of Under-Done Profiles
“Scammers often create a fake social media profile to seem more believable,” says Linden. “However, one surefire way to tell that it’s a scammer is if the profile seems to have been created recently with only a few generic pictures or posts.”
4. How to Act If You Suspect Someone Is a Scammer
Many people, when confronted with evidence that someone isn’t who they say they are in the dating context, will push back and insist it’s a misunderstanding.
That instinct to believe a person you’re attracted to, while noble, can most definitely get you in trouble. It’s important to retain just a little bit of skepticism when you’re first getting to know someone, especially with online dating context, so you can keep your eyes peeled for any potential red flags or deal-breakers. It’ll help you in a big way if the person on the other end of your romantic chats turns out to only be interested in order to get your money.
“Follow your gut. If it smells fishy, it probably is fishy,” says Janet Brito, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Honolulu. “Before you continue to send more gifts, or wire money, do some research online or talk to a trusted friend. Email the dating site and inquire about any other violations, or contact the Federal Trade Commission.”
If the person does make off with some of your money, it’s a good idea to do something about it.
“You may also think about filing a report with your local police, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, your bank or credit card company,” she adds. While you may not be able to get the money you lost back, alerting the authorities can help them build a case against the scammer, potentially helping to track them down and stop them from ripping off other innocent people.
“It can be embarrassing for people to admit that they were fooled, especially if they’ve done things that can’t be taken back,” says Linden. “However, it’s important that you report the scammer to the dating site to stop the person from doing this to someone else.”
5. Dealing With the Aftermath of Being Scammed
Whether a scammer has taken your money or not, being victimized by one can still be a deeply painful experience. Not only were you lied to, but the bond you felt you were forging was total fiction. It’s like being cheated on, dumped, ghosted and robbed all at once — and it can leave you feeling foolish.
The important thing to remember? It’s not your fault. Scammers are people who spend a lot of time perfecting their technique, and falling victim to one, whether briefly or at length, is likely more about their talents than your shortcomings. Sometimes, scam victims feel incapable of admitting what’s happened to others in their lives, but according to Linden, opening up about the experience is necessary.
“Being scammed can take a serious emotional and mental toll on you,” she says. “Some victims have even gone back to their scammer, believing that they can change them or that they’re really in love. Talking to a counselor or a trusted family member can often help bring you peace of mind, and their advice may just help you from making the same mistakes later on.”
You Might Also Dig:
Online Dating Sites