Internet dating scams are one of the biggest dangers online today.
Anyone looking for a human connection could become a potential victim of fraud, theft, or extortion by a scammer.
Statistics estimate that victims in the United States lost 143 million USD to catfishing and online dating scams during 2018. As scammers seek out more targets, this number could rise in future years. (https://www.statista.com/chart/17002/romantic-scams-us/).
Could you (or someone you know) fall prey to an internet dating scammer?
Here's what you should know about understanding the internet dating scam – and a look at some potential warning signs
Understanding the method and motivation behind a scam is important.
Scammers often capitalize on disinformation and a lack of internet literacy and the vulnerable emotions of potential victims to make the scam work.
Here's how scammers choose their victims; what internet dating scammers want and why they can be dangerous.
Internet dating scammers can target anyone with an internet connection. Some groups and people can be more vulnerable to being chosen as potential targets.
Scammers seek out individuals with a need for human connection, or those with a vulnerable emotional state.
Do you have a need to speak to someone for support, friendship or love?
It means that an internet dating scammer could target you.
The majority of scammers use social media, instant messaging services or online dating platforms to source their potential victims.
Often, scammers will build a profile of their victim, including their interests. This way the scammer knows which tactics are more likely to work. Users can stop this by changing their account privacy settings.
Scammers might use specific groups to seek out their victims. Singles groups, sales groups and even disability or illness support groups are prone to this.
Scanning through group members allows the scammer to pinpoint people to target while staying unseen themselves – and from there, the scam begins.
Money or gifts serve as common motivation for scammers – and at some point, they almost always begin to ask for them.
A request usually begins with something small, and commonly escalates to bigger (and more) requests. This way, the victim finds it more difficult to notice when the discussion becomes profitable for the scammer.
Cyber criminals can be motivated by things other than money. Many are after personal information that's later used for identity fraud, or seek compromising photos/images and use these to extort the victim.
Warning signs of scammers can tell you whether you might be dealing with a cyber-criminal instead of an online friend. A couple of the most common signs are listed in this article.
If a person online starts asking for money, favours or personal details, it can be the first sign of danger.
Criminals using an internet dating modus operandi can successfully extort thousands from their victims. It can take years before their victims realize, and many are left broke because it's too late when they do.
It's not just about money.
Criminals have also used the basic internet dating scam to meet up with unsuspecting victims. It can also lead to potential assault, sexual assault, kidnapping or murder.
If you suspect an online profile of being headed by a scam artist, you should report the profile by clicking Report.
If you have been personally affected by a scammer, collect all the available information you have and file a case with your local police department.
Extortion and internet dating scams are illegal and within the reach of the law to prosecute.
If you're an internet user, then you should learn how to spot the basic warning signs of internet dating scammers.
If you happen to know someone who has never dealt with online dating, social media or the potential of catfishing before, it could also be important for them to read this.
Here are common warning signs of internet dating fraudsters.
When someone you have just met seems to match up with your interests too soon, beware. Scammers profit from creating a persona that clicks with their victim.
Often, they can portray a fascinating, alluring or just interesting lifestyle, but it is not who they really are.
Scam artists always want something from their victim.
Money, favours, or images to exploit later are common requests from scammers. Elaborate requests like taxi rides, plane tickets or rent money are also common.
Victims are chosen when they are emotionally vulnerable, or when it's easy for the scam artist to "get a foot in the door" with a conversation.
If you have a need for friendship, conversation or love, be sure that someone out there is willing to take advantage of it.
Over time, the victim reveals increasingly personal information. The criminal can profit and take the scam further.
If you've just received a friend request or message from someone you've never seen, never met and have zero mutual friends with, it's a sure red flag.
Catfish artists often show up out of nowhere, with few real-life connections or friends to back up who they are.
The internet dating scam is not an overnight process in most cases. It can take weeks or months for the artist to build up a false level of trust between them and their potential victim.
Some scammers have patience, while others might force a false relationship to progress as quickly as possible.
Have you been chatting to someone for a long time?
It does not mean they could never be a potential catfish.
If someone asked you for $1, 000 on the street right now, you would certainly say no. But if someone you thought you knew asked you for $50 every other week over the period of several years, the amount could far surpass $1, 000 – and you might not notice.
Internet dating scams begin with small requests.
Once these are successful, requests become either more or more elaborate.
If a victim says no, a scammer might get angry, impatient, hateful or change their approach.
Criminals rarely use their legal names, or their own profile pictures to pull off a successful internet dating scam.
Pictures, names, and other information can be harvested from other profiles online. A scammer might even use the information from one victim to convince the next.
If a profile "just doesn't feel right", there might be more to it.
Search their public images through a website like TinEye (https://www.tineye.com/) to see if they show up anywhere else.
A criminal might be less likely to say yes to a phone or video call which could reveal their real identity behind the screen.
Less likely does not mean never. There are many scammers who do not shy away from calls, or ones who find a third-party accomplice to make a call on their behalf.
A scam artist's story and profile looks legitimate at first, but small details related to their tale will start to fall apart. If you suspect that you're being caught out by a scam artist, start verifying their details to see how many of these make sense.
Scammers capitalize on the fact that people will trust them enough to never check-up.
Have you or someone you know ever been victim to an internet dating scam? Have you ever narrowly escaped a catfishing scam attempt? Share your story with readers in the comments below.