Online dating is tough. I should know; I certainly gave it a try. I was young, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and not at all interested in finding love at church, school, or via a matchmaking relative. It took a while, but eventually, the right person came along and virtually swept me off my feet with online conversations about our mutual love for the Southern-style macaroni and cheese dishes served in our respective workplace cafeterias. We FaceTimed a few hours later, met in person days later, and a couple of years after that, we got married. Love works in mysterious ways.
My story is a happy one, but a growing number of people are finding headaches and heartbreaks on dating sites and chat apps as scammers look to cash in on people looking for love online. The popular Netflix documentary film “The Tinder Swindler” even shows how a man posing as a mogul tried to woo women online and bilk them out of millions. It’s such a popular scam that the US Federal Trade Commission has issued a report outlining common lies scammers use to get their victims to send them money.
So, who are the people falling for these scams? How do scammers groom their victims? I recently talked to Ashley Rose, CEO of Living Security, an online security training firm, about the dangers of online dating and what people can watch out for as they seek their soulmate online.
How Online Romance Scams Work
Rose told me that, historically, elders were prime targets for romantic ruses because they were less tech-savvy. But today’s scammers use the information they glean from social media posts to groom victims of all ages and gain their trust.
“The biggest factor is the amount of time and energy that these scammers and criminals are putting into grooming,” Rose said. “Getting to know you, empathizing, really spending that time to build a connection before coming in and asking for a loan, or funding, or an investment. It’s really causing smart, savvy, highly technical people to break down their guard and unfortunately get victimized.”
Rose added that scammers take advantage of the highly detailed information that people share online to build rapport and gain confidence. “If you are talking about your favorite sports team, it becomes their favorite sports team. Anything that’s very personal can help them form a quicker connection, which is what the scammers are looking for, so try to protect that type of information.”
The 5 Red Flags of Online Romance
I asked Rose about typical warning signs that indicate an online scam is afoot. Here are five questions to ask yourself or a loved one before developing a romantic relationship that started online:
1. Is the Relationship Moving Too Fast?
Rose said scammers try to lock down the relationship quickly. “We’re seeing a lot of these scammers trying to get your heart connected. So they’re saying, ‘I love you,’ and they’re kind of moving very fast in the relationship,” she said.
2. Are Their Photos and Videos Legit?
It’s important to verify whether the person sending you photos is the person you’re speaking to online. Rose said, “If they’re sending you images, you can do reverse image searches on Google. A lot of these scammers are taking people’s pictures from social media accounts or somewhere else online and sending them.”
3. Is Your New Love Asking You for a Lot of Personal Information?
In some instances, your personal information is even more valuable than cash to a scammer looking to commit identity fraud. Rose said, “Things like your birthday, your social security number, your banking information—all of that can actually [allow] the scammer to take on your identity.”
4. Does Your Relationship Only Exist Online?
Be wary of people who always have an excuse not to meet in person. “If you’re trying to meet up and you set a time and date, and then, ‘oh, I have a business trip that came up’ or somebody got sick, or this happened,’ they’re avoiding in-person meetups,” which Rose warned is a common red flag.
5. Is a Person You’ve Never Met in Real Life Asking You for Money?
Money requests in any form are a giant red flag when it comes to online dating, especially for older victims. Rose said, “Don’t send money to anyone you meet online. That should just be across the board.”
Navigate Dating Apps With Caution
I know this advice sounds a bit depressing, but you can still find love and affection online. The important thing, according to Rose, is to go into the relationship with a healthy dose of skepticism and proceed slowly from that point. Scammers are usually impatient and will move on, while a real love match grows at its own pace.
Ready to dip your toes into the dating pool? Use the above suggestions and check out our picks for the best dating apps.