Beware online dating scams

Unfortunately, scams are everywhere. Online scams are becoming increasingly common and have mutated over the years to become quite sophisticated – and romance scams are rife. Scammers are drawn to dating sites because they know that the people on there are looking to make a personal connection, and they can use this to their advantage.

But let’s stay positive, it’s definitely possible to meet Mr or Ms Right online – just keep your guard up to protect your heart, your pride and your bank balance.

What is a romance scam?
The very basic definition of a scammer is someone who is pretending to be something they are not for gain. Romance scams involve two people meeting online, often through social media or dating websites, and developing a relationship. Romance scams are often played out over a long period of time, the scammer wants the victim to be so sure of the relationship that when they ask for money, the victim will send it. Scammers spend time grooming their victims with techniques such as professing their emotional commitment and sharing false personal stories. Sadly, the scammers often know exactly what the victim is hoping to hear.

Once trust has been established, they often concoct believable situations where a sudden need for money has arisen and tend to ask for multiple, smaller payments rather than a large one-off sum.

It’s common for scammers to claim to need the money for personal emergencies. For example, they may have a severely ill family member requiring medical attention or a life-saving operation. They may also talk about financial hardship due to a failed business or a violent mugging.  Another popular claim is that the scammer wants to travel to visit the person but can’t afford it unless the victim can lend them money to cover the flights or other travel expenses.

Another trick might be to organise a meeting with the victim, only to send a last-minute message claiming an accident or illness and asking for immediate money to help.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is: if you haven’t met the person face-to-face, don’t send them money under any circumstance.

So how do you spot the signs of an online romance scam?
Here are a few things that should be red flags.

Avoidance: if the person you’re talking to online is reluctant to talk on the phone or discuss meeting in person, it’s possible they are not who they say they are.

Quickly asking to move away from the site you met on: scammers don’t want to hang around on dating sites with fake profiles for too long in case the site or app catches on. If someone is pressuring you to move to other avenues like email, text or WhatsApp, you may be dealing with a scammer.

They are not in Australia: often these people claim to be overseas on a business trip. They can also falsely take on the identities of real, trusted people such as military personnel, aid workers or professionals working in a different country.

It gets serious quickly: scammers often quickly profess their love in order to manipulate the victim in forking over cash as soon as possible.

They ask a lot of questions: it’s not just about scammers directly asking you for money. Instead, they could be trying to gain enough information about you to steal your identity.

Their profile is too good to be true: if the person you’re talking to online seems to tick all the right boxes, it’s possible they could not be telling the truth. Be suspicious if they have Hollywood looks, a well-paying job, and spend time volunteering for charity on the weekends. These are all common claims used by scammers.

They can’t keep their story straight: remember, scammers don’t always work alone. If they forget past conversations or something is not adding up it could be a group effort and you could actually be talking to multiple people all pretending to be one.

What to do if you think you might be talking to an online scam artist
Use Google reverse image search:
if you use Chrome, a right-click on their photo will give you the option to search Google for the image. This will show whether the photo is being used elsewhere online. If multiple other dating profiles show up, be wary.

Ask for a phone call: listen closely for broken English or for an accent that sounds different from where they say they are from.

Copy and paste their original message into a search engine: common scam messages are posted on forums as a way of helping out other scammers. If large chunks of the message are found on forums or other sites, it’s likely that it came from a scammer.

The bottom line is anyone can be unlucky enough to be a target of a romance scam, and anyone can fall for it. If you are navigating the online dating scene, enjoy it and have fun but keep your wits about you.

Do you think you’ve ever talked with a scammer online? Did you report it?

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Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.
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