Searching for romance over the Internet has become more and more popular over the years. Online dating is nearly a billion dollar industry and scammers are cashing in on the trend, taking advantage of unsuspecting men and women.
Every day, scammers target hundreds of online daters, and many have fallen prey to scams that cost online daters, on average, of more than $3,000 per person. They do it by posing as men or women overseas and send you a note through an online dating service. They pretend to be interested in you and provide their “email address” so that you can continue communicating offline.
Scammers use email to try and build an online relationship with you and they eventually profess their love. Some will even host fake Webcam sessions or even call you on the phone. Once they sense you are falling in love with their persona, the scam kicks into high gear. An “emergency” (mother hospitalized, surgery needed) suddenly arises and they ask for money. Or they say they want to meet you, but need money to apply for a VISA to come see you. Little does the victim realize that he or she is talking to a professional con artist. And that con artist may not even be the same gender as the person they are portraying! The scams can get quite complex, including men hiring a girl to call you (or vice versa) and pose as your online love interest.
You can avoid being a victim of online relationship scams by taking note of these warning signs:
Being Asked for Money
This is the most telltale sign of a scam. No matter what you think or what other people might say, it just isn’t a normal behavior to ask for money if you’ve never met someone in person. Scammers are quite creative – they will ask you to help with airfare so they can come and visit, cash a check, help out with an emergency for you to send a money order and so on. Some will ask for money fairly quick and others will show patience while trying to build a relationship with you, getting you to fall for the imaginary person in the profile they set up.
Initiating First Contact
Scammers virtually always are the first to initiate contact with you. If you get an email (or wink) from someone overseas, it’s best not to respond.
Wanting to Communicate via Email
An online scammer will want to take your communications to email as soon as possible because they know their profile may soon be deleted when an online dating service notices their pattern of emailing people. So many times in the very first or second email they will give you an email address and ask you to email them.
Some scammers will cut or scan photos from magazines. Others will steal them right off Facebook or other online dating profiles. Trust your instincts. If you feel the photo is suspicious, chances are it’s probably a fake. Photos chosen are usually of an attractive man or woman. Sometimes they will find photos of someone from the military and post those to help explain why they are “out of the country.” Be alert and trust your gut if it tells you somethings not right.
Unwillingness to Share Information
The person you are talking to showers you with attention and he/she seems to be overly interested in everything about you, yet doesn’t share a lot of information about themselves. If they are avoiding your questions like a seasoned politician, then run..
If you are exchanging emails with someone overseas (a bad idea to begin with), watch out for inconsistencies like a variation in the style of the email, language differences, repetitive statements, etc.. The scammer who initiated the communication with you may not always be the same one that carries it through. If something doesn’t seem right about the emails you are receiving, then it’s not right.
Besides looking out for red flags you can take other measures to further protect yourself:
1) Be the one always initiating communication via online dating services.
2) Guard your privacy.
3) Communicate with people locally, not overseas.
4) Trust your gut instinct from the start.
5) Never reply to communications from someone who sends you a note and immediately includes their email address for you to continue the communication.
Many people have fallen prey to online relationship scams. In one case, two men showed up at the same airport to meet a girl from overseas that they had sent money to for her “flight.” Both were left holding flowers at the airport staring at each other. They had apparently been duped by the same scammer.
While it is true that there are many people who find life partners over the Internet, it is best to always be on your guard when using online dating services. Don’t get scammed!
(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2007 and updated in 2015)