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How to spot and avoid a dating scam

author: Helen Fox

By Helen Fox

Romance and dating scams are on the rise.

8,036 instances of romance fraud were reported to the National Fraud and Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) from April 2022 to April 2023. The average loss per victim was an appalling £11,500.

These scams typically take place on online dating apps. We’re exploring what’s involved and how you can protect yourself to keep dating fun, not fraudulent.

Dating scammers manipulate you into sending them money

In a dating or romance scam, the fraudster manipulates you into believing you have a romantic relationship with them to steal money from you. The victim and the scammer usually meet through online dating.

The fraudster needs your trust for the scam to succeed. So, they’ll take time to build it. They will ask you for money eventually, but they want you to be happy to hand it over because you’re giving it to someone you care about.

When dating scammers do ask for money, they may claim there’s an emergency they need help with. Or, they may ask for money to fund a visit to see you. They think that these situations will make you more likely to help them. They may ask for money a number of times over the course of your relationship, with a different reason each time.

It’s hard to spot a dating scam at first, but there are signs to look out for

It may not be obvious at first that you’re being scammed. A dating scammer won’t demand your life savings straight off the bat. But there are subtle signs of a romance scam that you may be able to spot from day one:

  • They’re keen to take your conversation away from the dating app, wanting to text, WhatsApp, or speak on the phone instead.
  • They ask a lot about you, but don’t say much about themselves.
  • Details they do share don’t add up because their story changes as the conversation goes on.
  • What they tell you doesn’t reflect your experience with them. For example, they may claim to be from a certain location but not know about a popular venue.
  • They seem to fall for you quickly, perhaps saying they’ve “never felt like this before”, giving you a pet name early on, or even telling you they love you.
  • Arrangements to meet in person get cancelled or delayed, with financial trouble often used as an excuse.
  • Money worries or troubles come up often in conversation, although they won’t ask for help immediately.

Protecting yourself from a dating scam

Dating apps are a wonderful way to meet new people. But scams are common, and the cost to victims is high. We spoke to Ben Fleming, our in-house fraud expert, to find out how you can protect yourself from online dating scams.

Pay attention to their profile

When you’re using online dating apps, pay special attention to your potential matches’ profiles. Scammers are now using AI tools like ChatGPT to write dating profiles for them. To spot a profile written by AI, look out for people describing themselves using strange or complicated words you wouldn’t typically use this way.

Be careful when and how you share personal details

If you’re talking to someone and it’s going well, you’ll naturally want to share more about yourself with them. But try to avoid sharing information a fraudster could use to impersonate you. This includes your full name, date of birth, or home address.

The same goes for sharing your contact details. Most dating apps let you keep these private until you’re ready to share them with someone.

Keep your conversations on the dating app

Fraudsters will want to take your conversation “offline” quickly. Dating apps may keep records of messages that are exchanged between their users (as should be explained in any dating app’s privacy policy). These can be used as evidence to prosecute scammers.

Whether you suspect someone may be a scammer or not, keeping your conversation within the app’s chat service, at least to start with, is a sensible thing to do.

send money to someone you’re talking to

Scammers are skilled storytellers. They know what to say and how to manipulate you to convince you to send them money. If anyone you’re talking to online asks you for money or even hints that you should offer, this is a big red flag.

The same goes for someone asking if they can use your bank account to receive money. This is a strange thing to ask, even if you know each other well. It can be a sign they’re involved in a money mule scheme. This is a serious financial crime.

Do your own checks to confirm their identity

When you’re chatting with a new match, look them up on social media. You may not be able to see much because of their privacy settings. But you should be able to see how long they’ve had their account and how many friends or followers they have. Accounts created recently or with very few followers could be scammers.

You can also carry out a reverse image search on your match’s profile picture. You should find that the only results point to the person you’re speaking to. If you get results that appear to show the image belongs to somebody else, then you could be speaking to a scammer.

Reporting a dating scam

Online dating services allow you to report fake profiles, abusive users, and scammers. Reporting suspected scammers helps dating apps to block fraudsters and prevent them from accessing these apps in the future.

If you’ve been the victim of a scam, then you should contact Action Fraud. They treat all reports of fraud and cybercrime in confidence. You may also want to report it to your local police on 101.

If you’ve sent money to a scammer, speak to your bank to see if you can get some or all of your money back.


Disclaimer: We make every effort to ensure that content is correct at the time of publication. Please note that information published on this website does not constitute financial advice, and we aren’t responsible for the content of any external sites.

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