Thanks to numerous sites with solid reputations and a track record of uniting happy couples, online dating sites are a mainstream, respected industry. Unfortunately, as with anything that garners a following and public attention, scammers have flooded dating platforms and social media sites with attempts at stealing your money or worse, your entire identity.
One woman learned the hard way just how evil romance scammers can be. After meeting her perfect match online, he almost instantly began talking of a future together. It didn’t take long for the scammer to begin asking the victim for tens of thousands of dollars, all for plausible reasons that she happily accepted. Eventually, the scammer even lured her into money laundering, all while toying with her emotions and letting her believe they were going to get married.
While that example may be a more extreme case of being scammed, data from the Federal Trade Commission revealed that reports of romance scams to the FBI have more than tripled over the last five years and victims lost more than $220 million in 2016 alone. But those looking for love don’t need to avoid online dating altogether to avoid getting scammed, as long as they keep some cyber safety tips in mind, such as the following ones.
- How did you meet? – If you sign up for a profile on a well-known dating site, there are some tools you can use to “vet” anyone you meet. At the very least, many of the more popular sites offer you the ability to report someone for shady behavior, and these sites can block people who’ve broken the rules in the past.
However, a number of romance scam victims have met their scammers via social media. If you receive a message or friend request from a stranger, be especially cautious about answering. Google the person’s name and photo, too, to see what kind of results pop up. You might be surprised to find out that the name and photo belongs to someone else.
- Be mindful of oversharing – Spending time chatting with a new friend online is exciting, but be very careful of the questions the other person is asking. Are these questions meant to get to know you better, or to dig around until they can piece together your identity? Questions like, “Where are you from?” are completely normal, but if they want the specific hometown or what street you lived on, that could be a red flag that they’re seeking the answers to your security questions.
- Take it slow – Be extremely careful of online friendships that escalate at an unusually fast pace with talk of love or future plans. There’s no reason to run screaming for the hills, but it should make you stop and think. Any mention of exclusivity, canceling your online dating profile, planning in-person visits, and even long-term commitment before you’ve really gotten to know each other should give you pause. In the case of a scammer, spending months developing a relationship is a waste of their time.
- Then there’s the money talk – One surefire way to know if your new online friend is a scammer is when money pops up. It might be subtle at first, just a few voiced concerns to test the waters. Eventually, a “crisis” happens and they are at their wit’s end, embarrassed to even be asking you to help out.
That’s when you know it’s a scam. There’s no reason why someone you’ve been chatting with online for only a few weeks needs to ask you for money. Remember, if this was a face-to-face relationship, you’d most likely never loan someone a large amount of money after knowing them for such a short time; you’d also never loan them money twice or even three times without repayment, yet that’s what scammers often ask. They string their victims along until the well runs dry: when you either can’t or won’t turn over any more cash, they disappear.
The worst part of scams like these is the emotional toll they take on the victim. Not only is there the knowledge that you were stolen from, but those feelings are combined with the very real pain of also losing what you thought was a promising relationship. Be cautious about dating both online and offline, and safeguard your emotional health while watching out for your wallet as well.
If you do decide to take a chance on finding love online, you should proactively monitor your credit reports and accounts regularly to ensure you catch any potential fraudulent activity early and can minimize any losses. You can request your credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and Transunion) one time each year for free, and by alternating which bureau you request them from, and by staggering the requests, you can monitor your credit reports year round. You may also want to consider purchasing identity protection with proactive credit and identity monitoring, to be alerted of suspicious activity on your credit reports or if your personal information has been listed for sale or bought on the black market.
If you do find yourself to have fallen victim to identity theft and you believe it was perpetrated by a supposed love interest, you can contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for guidance on how to resolve the theft or, if you have identity protection with full-service resolution assistance you can contact your provider to resolve the fraud for you.
Generali Global Assistance proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.