Online dating is more popular than ever before. A recent survey found that for the first time ever, it’s the #1 way newlyweds met. And 1 out of 2 singles in America who responded to a Match.com survey said they’ve created an online dating profile.
The pros are numerous – it’s an easy way to expand your “dating” network outside of your social and professional circles, and you’ll likely meet intriguing people you’d never have a chance to meet otherwise.
But is online dating safe? After all, it’s got a dark side as well. One study found that approximately 81% of online daters lie about their age, weight, and height in their profiles, another found that 30% of singles on Tinder are actually married, like this guy:
Unfortunately, not everyone makes their relationship status as obvious as “P,” and some people are looking for more than just a good time while their spouse is away. Romance scams are a booming business, thanks in part to the rising popularity of online dating.
Let’s start with how to avoid online scammers.
Tip #1 – Recognize The Warnings Signs Of A Romance Scammer
Scammers are out there, and unfortunately dating sites and apps make for a target rich environment. In fact, more than 21,000 victims reported losing over $143 million in 2018, making romance scams the most common type of consumer fraud in the United States.
According to the FBI, internet scammers who fish for targets on dating sites often target women who are recently divorced or widowed. In other words – emotionally vulnerable.
Most often those victims are both educated and computer literate, and yet they’re still taken, often for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the last three years, victims in the US and Canada who came forward reported losing nearly $1 billion collectively – and that’s just the people who were willing to admit they’d fallen for a scam.
As Steven Baker of the Federal Trade Commission told the New York Times, “I don’t think there is a general understanding of how much of this romance scam stuff is out there, how it works and what the consequences are. It’s staggering how many people fall for it.”
Scammers usually follow a simple formula:
- Acquire a target. Scammers typically troll for victims on a dating site or social media like Facebook.
- Build trust. He’ll start endearing himself to you – often bonding over “shared” experiences gleaned from things in your dating profile or that you posted on Facebook.
- Dangle the carrot. Once you’re emotionally hooked, he’ll make plans to meet in person, but always cancels. The reasons are usually plausible, and designed to make you sympathize with his plight.
- Ask for money. This could start out small, like money to cover a plane ticket to visit you (but he’ll have to cancel the flight last minute), a medical emergency, or an unexpected legal fee. Gradually, that amount will increase until you stop sending it.
And before you start thinking, “I would never fall for that,” remember that scammers literally do this for a living. It’s a full-time job, and they’re very good at manipulating your emotions and tugging at your heart strings.
Many fraudsters are invested in the long con – spending years or more slowly taking victims for every last penny. But forewarned is forearmed, and that’s especially true when it comes to online dating.
You’re about to read some real quotes from actual victims who came forward to the FBI or other government agency – smart, educated women who truly thought they’d found happiness and love.
Those quotes are paired with romance scammer red flags, so you can keep both your heart and your wallet intact while online dating:
He was trying to finish up a job in California, and he needed some money to help finish the job. I thought about it long and hard. I prayed about it. I’ve always been a very giving person, and I figured if I had money … I could send him some. And he promised to have it back within 24 to 48 hours. I thought, ‘I could do that.’ It was kind of a statement of faith, too.
Red Flag: He may say he’s a US soldier stationed abroad, or that he’s working in a field that requires frequent travel around and outside the US, like construction. That makes it easy to avoid meeting in person, and also plausible that he would need money urgently to finish up a project. (The woman quoted above lost $30,000.)
He was saying all the right things. He was interested in me. He was interested in getting to know me better. He was very positive, and I felt like there was a real connection there.
Red Flag: He seems like the perfect catch – but balks at meeting in person. You’re not looking for a penpal, even an extremely supportive one. If someone you’ve met online consistently has a reason why he can’t meet you in person, move on after a few weeks. (The woman quoted above ended up losing $2 million over several years.)
Almost every day I was contacted with a new demand for money. They sent me certificates signed by officials, forms to fill out and bills for everything. If you wanted to get anything done quickly you had to pay another fee. It seemed to me that the whole Malaysian government was corrupt. I don’t know exactly how much money I sent but it was well over $100,000. I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted to help Jim and I honestly thought he would pay me back.
Red Flag: It’s never enough money. The quote above is from an Australian woman who was scammed, and reported it to officials there. But it’s a common occurrence all over the world – if you give money once, they’re going to keep asking.
No matter how legit you think someone’s story is, if you haven’t met him in person, don’t send money in any form. If you find yourself tempted, run it through the “friends & family” test – as in, if your son/daughter/best friend told you they were thinking about doing it, what would you tell them?
Here are a few more signs you could be dealing with a romance scammer:
- Messages escalate quickly from “getting to know you” to “professions of love,” and they try to move things off the site or app and onto email or another communication platform after just a handful of exchanges.
- What he’s telling you doesn’t match the details in his profile. For instance, his profile states he’s college educated in the US, but his messages read more like English is his second language.
- In addition to always having a reason why he can’t meet you in person, he’ll also have a reason why he can’t Skype or FaceTime.
- He asks for “intimate” photos or videos. While it's not uncommon for couples at all stages of a relationship to swap sexy snaps, wait until you’re 100% positive the person you’re sharing it with is legit. Hold off until you’ve met in person, as many scammers use racy photos to try and blackmail you with if you refuse to send money.
Tip #2 – The Easiest Way To Spot A Fake Profile
Do a reverse image search on his profile photos to see if they pop up elsewhere on the internet.
Here is how to do a reverse image search on Google:
- Right click on the photo you want to check.
- Select “Search Google for image”
- Look at the search results to see if there are other similar images.
The example to the right is a “real” POF profile that borrowed the image of a famous Jamaican singer, Romain Virgo.
Thanks to the reverse image search results, you can quickly determine this isn’t a legit profile:
A reverse image search takes only seconds, and it’s an online dating precaution you should always take before you exchange messages with someone new.
Tip #3: Consider Using A Paid Dating Site
While you may still stumble across a few, having to pay for a subscription in order to exchange messages helps cut down on the number of fake profiles. Some sources estimate that 10% of new accounts on free dating sites are fake profiles set up by scammers.
From that perspective, paid dating sites are typically the safest online dating sites.
You’ll also likely find people are usually more serious about taking things offline, since they’ve invested money in the process. Match.com is one of the most popular online dating sites, and a great place to enter (or reenter) the dating scene.
Tip #4: When It Comes To A First Date, Put Your Safety First
There are 5 first date ground rules every woman should follow, especially when it’s with someone you’ve “met” online:
Rule #1: Always meet somewhere public. This one should be non-negotiable! Some guys may suggest cooking you a meal at his house, but even if he has the purest of intentions, it’s really not wise from a personal safety standpoint.
When you meet at a public spot, it’s also a lot easier to end the evening early if you feel like the date isn’t going well. You can always excuse yourself to restroom, and keep walking straight out the restaurant’s door.
Rule #2: Don’t rely on him for transportation. Drive your own car, summon an Uber, etc. From a “worst case scenario” perspective, the person driving the car has all the control. If it’s him, he decides where you’re going (and when you’re going home). Plus, if he picks you up, he knows where you live. It’s much safer in the long run to be in control of your own transportation.
Rule #3: Skip the second (and third) cocktail. You don’t need this article to tell you alcohol lowers your inhibitions and awareness, so stick with having just one.
Also, if you’re not in a setting where a waiter will bring it, get it yourself – and don’t leave your drink unattended. Date rape drugs like GHB, ketamine, and Rohypnol aren’t just limited to college campuses.
Rule #4: Leave a paper trail. It’s always a good idea to let a friend or family member know where you’re going and who you’re meeting. Pass along the basics like his name and phone number if you have it.
Many women also plan a “check in” call or text with a girlfriend, which can also be used as an excuse to end the evening early if you’re not feeling it.
Many dating platforms like Match and Tinder are now incorporating safety measures, like the ability to share information about your date and where you’ll be with friends, and even initiate emergency calls via the app.
Rule #5: Trust your feelings. Women’s intuition is a very real thing – so trust yours. If that little voice in the back of your head is uneasy, pay attention. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to simply say, “I’m sorry, but I need to go.”
Tip #5: Enlist A Team Of Online Matchmaking Experts
If this is your first foray into online dating, or you’re diving into the local single’s scene again after a long relationship, it may seem overwhelming, discouraging, even a little scary.
After all, creating a profile, choosing photos, weeding through your messages and deciding which you should respond to – it’s a lot of work, and why 54% of single women reported feeling “burned out” by the dating process.
Want to ensure your online dating experience is both safe and productive? Let VIDA help. The process is simple – you tell us what your “ideal man” is like, and your dedicated matchmaker and her team will get to work finding him for you.
VIDA carefully selects and screens potential matches for you, but that’s not all – our professional writers will even handle all the back and forth message exchanges!
Not only will we set up dates with all the intriguing local men you can’t wait to meet, we’ll also get answers to your most burning questions – like job status, kids, education level, etc. You’ll walk into each date confident that you’re meeting someone real, who meets all your perfect partner criteria.
Want to learn more about how VIDA can help introduce you to your soulmate? Just tap the button below!