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How to spot and avoid a dating scam

author: Helen Fox

By Helen Fox

Romance and dating scams have, unfortunately, been on the rise in recent years.

In 2021, UK Finance revealed that a total of £18.5 million was lost to this type of scam between January and November 2020, and the average loss per victim stood at an appalling £7,850.

But, what are dating and romance scams? Is it possible to spot the signs and protect yourself? Let’s find out.

What is a dating scam?

Dating or romance scams happen when the victim gives money or personal information to a fraudster who has deceived them into believing they share a romantic relationship. The victim and the scammer will usually meet via a dating app or website.

Dating scams can often be a “slow burn”, because the fraudster needs to build a rapport with you and earn your trust for the scam to stand its best chance of succeeding. When the time is right, the scammer will usually ask you to send them money, either as a bank transfer, gift card, or in the form of an expensive gift. Often, their request will be dressed up as an emergency to make you more likely to want to help.

Who is the target of a dating scam?

Dating and romance scammers target single people, usually who are using dating sites. People of all genders and sexual orientations can be vulnerable to dating scams.

Scammers prey on the perceived loneliness felt by those using dating sites. Their aim is to emotionally manipulate their victims into believing they have a genuine connection with the scammer, before taking their money or committing fraud using their personal details.

 What are the signs of a dating scam

Even though it may take a while for a dating scammer to reveal their true motive, there are still some more subtle signs of a scam that you may be able to spot from day one after matching with someone on a dating site:

  • they’re keen to take your conversation away from the chat facilities in most dating sites, preferring to text, WhatsApp or speak on the phone instead
  • they ask a lot about you, while avoiding sharing much about themselves
  • details they do share don’t add up, whether because their story changes as the conversation goes on, or don’t reflect the reality of your experience of them. For example, they may claim to be from a certain location, but not understand local slang
  • they seem to fall for you hard and fast, perhaps saying they’ve “never felt like this before”, and giving you a pet name early on
  • any arrangements to meet up in person are cancelled or delayed, with financial trouble often used as an excuse
  • money worries or troubles come up often in conversation, without directly asking you for help (this comes later!)

Protecting yourself from a dating scam

Dating sites can be a wonderful way to meet new people and find that special someone. However, there are some safety tips it’s worth following to both protect yourself in general, and from being scammed:

Be careful when and how you share personal details

Of course, if things are going well with someone you’re talking to, you’ll want to share some personal information with them! However, be mindful of the details you share, and try to avoid sharing anything a fraudster could use to impersonate you, like your full name, full date of birth, or home address.

The same goes for sharing your contact details. Many dating sites allow you to keep information like your phone number and email address private until you’re ready to share them, which is useful.

Never send money to someone you’re talking to

Never send money to someone you’ve met on a dating site. Scammers are adept at spinning elaborate yet believable stories to convince you that sending them money is not only OK, but that it’s a great idea. The same goes for requests to receive money into your account for them. This is a very peculiar thing to ask of someone, no matter how well you know them, and can be a sign that something dodgy is going on.

Of course, it’s different if you’ve met someone in person, and the money you’re sending them is your half towards a meal or drinks you shared!

Keep your conversations on the dating site

Fraudsters and scammers are likely to want to take your conversation “offline” as soon as possible. Dating sites keep records of messages that are exchanged between their users (as should be explained in any dating site’s Privacy Policy), and these could be used as evidence to locate, identify and prosecute a scammer. Whether you suspect someone may be a scammer or not, keeping your conversation within the dating site’s chat facilities, at least initially, is a good idea.

Do a reverse image search of your match’s profile picture

Carrying out a reverse image search on your match’s profile pictures may seem like an extreme step, but it can be a very useful way to identify someone using a fake profile. The practice of using pictures that aren’t really of you, known as catfishing, can be extremely harmful, whether the catfish intends to scam you or not.

When you do a reverse image search, you should find that the only results it returns are for other profiles belonging to the person you’re speaking to – their social media profiles, for example. If you find you get results that appear to show the image belongs to somebody else, though, then this could be a sign that you’re speaking to somebody who is using a fake profile. This may be a sign to cut off contact with them.

Reporting a dating scam

Most dating sites allow you to report users who have created fake profiles, are behaving abusively, or who attempt to scam you. Doing this if and when you come across someone you suspect to be a scammer helps the dating sites to close down fraudulent accounts and spot patterns of behaviour to prevent them from being created in the future.

If you’ve lost money to any type of scam, or think your personal details may have been stolen and abused, then you can contact Action Fraud, who treat all reports of fraud and cybercrime in confidence. You may also be able to get some or all of your money back – read our article on this to find out how.

Disclaimer: All information and links are correct at the time of publishing.

author: Helen Fox

By Helen Fox

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