Especially when we’re in dark times, someone who is kind, fun and attentive can get past our defenses more easily.
The temptation may be to chat–a lot—with attractive people you encounter on a dating site, quickly switching to WhatsApp or another service. Scammers and non-scammers can blur in the whirl of many texts.
You might even have some fun and get some warmth from the doctor who is really a kid in Lagos with good social skills. It’s happenned to me.
I never gave money, but I wasted my time. We don’t get scammed because we’re dumb. We get scammed because we indulge in wishful thinking. We want to think the best of others. We want hope. We’re afraid of being alone.
You might be highly imaginative. The truth is that we fool ourselves; the scammers just know how to stay in the story we invent. As a novelist, I recognize the feeling–high on all the possibilities and feeling special and fulfilled. I’m “living my dream.”
This of course goes for relationships we get into with non-scammers, too. Illusion is built into the beginning of love.
So if you’re not just fooling around, arrange a meeting quickly or do a video call. Not a phone call—video. It’s the only way to be sure you’re communicating with the man or woman in the photos you see. Even video calls can be faked, so be sure you can see your new correspondent clearly.
If you are just fooling around, I suggest remembering that you’re still vulnerable to being hurt.
You can weed out most scammers at their first approach. Let’s say a very attractive person writes you first, throwing out “Hello beautiful,” and says nothing specific about your profile. Lots of people do that who aren’t scammers, but if your new admirer is also stunning, try not to succumb! Fantasize about someone on TV instead.
When you’re browsing, or after you’ve mutually swiped Yes, look for giveaways. I’ve outlined the most common ones, which apply to both men and women, straight or gay.
How to spot a fake dating profile.
The photos will most likely be square, screenshots from Instagram, which turns every photo square. There will be only a few photos. Or there may be no photo of his face.
If the site includes a location, the location will change. This is because scammers are looking for new people all the time. The site Happn uses GPS to show you who was in your area recently. However, a scammer can fool the system with his smartphone. Notice if he doesn’t say a specific neighborhood in your city or town in your area. For example, nobody who lives in Manhattan tells other New Yorkers that he lives in “Manhattan.” He says “Upper East Side.” Many many men have told me they live in “Manhattan,” and I ask a question or two more and almost invariably, I know they’ve never been to New York–and I report them.
Fake profiles often don’t link to Facebook or Instagram. If you do see social media accounts, they’ll look new, without much activity and with few friends or followers.
His story is glamorous. He’s a medic or in the military in Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan. He’s a doctor for the United Nations or Médecins Sans Frontières, the international nonprofit called Doctors Without Borders in English.
His story is heart-tugging. His wife died or ran off and he has children who need a mother. These lies appeal to people with big hearts who are more likely to want to help when the scammer asks for money.
Or he’s an investor or philanthropist, which is attractive if you’re looking for someone financially successful, often because you’re in some trouble yourself.
When in doubt, try a reverse image search at images.google.com. See instructions here. You might see your friend’s images attached to a different name or story. If you start communicating, ask.
How to spot someone who is lying.
You chat on the site and he immediately asks you to switch to WhatsApp or text and then tells you he’s quitting your dating app. He hopes you’ll assume he’s focusing only on you—but really he knows you might guess and is preventing you from reporting him to the dating service.
He tells you that he’s traveling, but only for a couple of weeks or a month. Your next move: Say “You sound wonderful, why don’t you get in touch when you’re home.” If he then keeps writing more than occasionally, be concerned. Maybe he’s really smitten. More likely, he’s a scammer. A doctor in a war zone doesn’t have time to chat.
When you look at his social media accounts, he tells you that they’re brand new because his old ones were hacked, he lost his phone and forgot to backup, or he lost his passwords and couldn’t retrieve them. Creating a complete background is work for scammers, although sometimes they take a stab at it.
He’s a professional who doesn’t have a Linked In profile.
If you suspect someone might be a scammer but you want to continue, you might ask. He might deny it, pretend to be crushed, insult you, cancel your match, or call you. Whatever he says, don’t believe him unless he agrees to a video call on a secure service. Let him prove himself to you.
How to avoid all this trouble
Use a site that has video services built in, like Badoo and MeetMe, and use it. Or ask for a video call as soon as you’re interested. FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype and IPhone are good choices. However, if your new friend asks you to use a video service you’ve never heard of, beware. Also be extra wary if the face on the other side is too fuzzy to see. Scammers can fake video calls.
Someone who keeps putting off the video call may be shy—or you may be. So another alternative is to ask questions that expose him. You’ll know what they are.
If you’re a sucker for romance, a good habit is to discuss your prospects with friends who will tell you the truth (including when they don’t want any more dating stories!). Listen if they’re unenthusiastic or warn you and try to steer the conversation towards ways you could be happy that don’t require a virtual stranger.
Remember, if you’re fooled it’s because you wanted to be. You need to be a best friend to yourself, the one who tells you to stay clear.
A version of this story appears on Your Care Everywhere.