Meet in person
Take a close look at your new friend’s online profile picture. Does it look a bit too polished? If so, it could be a stock photo, or a picture that a scam artist took from someplace else.
One way to check is to do a reverse image search on Google. In the search box, click on the camera icon. It will allow you to either upload the profile photo or paste it directly from the web site.
“If you get a million results for it, chances are it’s some kind of a stock photo,” Hood said.
Of course, the best way to tell if the person you are dealing with is real is to meet in person. Moving your relationship from virtual to real is a big step. But it is a necessary one in order to make certain that your new love is for real. Don’t be shy. Ask to meet, at least in a video chat. If your new suitor is reluctant, beware.
“If they say, ‘I’m not ready to meet you in person,’ or ‘I want to continue just chatting online,’ that could be trouble,” Hood said.
If you are not yet comfortable meeting your new friend in person, Hood says to at least try to move away from the confines of the dating site by getting their email address or connecting on Facebook. That makes it harder for scam artists to hide.
“If you start getting, ‘I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with that yet,’ it doesn’t mean that they’re a scammer, but in my mind it would raise some red flags,” Hood said.
At the same time, however, the FBI says to beware of an online suitor who quickly seeks to lure you “offline” or away from the dating site. That could be a sign that they want to scam you.
Pay attention to your love interest’s use of the language, both in their online profile and in chats and emails. You may find telltale signs of a scam.
“One sign is if there is weird spelling or punctuation,” Hood said. “A lot of times English isn’t somebody’s first language, so that’s completely understandable. (But) if somebody says that they’re U.S.-born and their writing just doesn’t feel like that of a native-born person, that could be a red flag.”
That is because online dating scams in particular frequently originate overseas.
“From just a purely legal perspective, it’s more difficult to prosecute people for doing this overseas,” Hood said. “A lot of countries have economic conditions that drive people to do these types of things. And I think as a result of that, there’s a market for it and it’s easier for people to get sort of teams of people lined up to do these types of scams.”
The reddest flag
Skilled scam artists are patient. They will invest months into a relationship, seemingly asking for nothing in return. Then, when you are finally all in, they spring their trap. They ask for money, like “Adam Smith” did with Lilo Schuster. She admits she never saw it coming.
“You feel like you’re contributing to your relationship, that you’re helping his daughter be able to go on a trip that he couldn’t provide for her, but, you know, he’ll pay me back is what he had said,” she recalled.
Experts agree. If someone you are dating — online or otherwise — asks you for money, do not give it.
“I would say, 99-plus percent of the time, the answer would be, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t send you any money.’ I can’t really envision a scenario when that’s anything other than a scam,” Hood said.
If you suspect someone is trying to scam you, report your concerns to the dating site. Reputable sites will shut down accounts that are engaging in questionable activity. You should also consider blocking the person from further contact with you.
If you think you have already been scammed, file a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. It could help stop a fraudster in his cruel and dastardly tracks.
Learn about the latest twists in online dating scams on the next all-new episode of “American Greed,” Monday, Aug. 28 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC.