Can online dating be done safely?
Older generations might warn that the only people doing online dating are serial killers. However, it’s important to remind them that the crime rate is lower than it ever has been. The crime you are most likely to fall victim to when dating online is a romance scam, which usually involves losing large sums of money.
In fact, romance scams cost victims seven times more than traditional online scams on average. The older you are, the higher the price tag of these insidious yet rare scams.
So how can you protect yourself from online dating scams?
Below are some of the most effective tips for safe online dating you can use.
Understand The Risks
In 2018, the FBI indicted 80 people for stealing a collective $46 million through various online dating scams. Stories of people, mostly women, being taken for hundreds of thousands of dollars make the news periodically.
It’s important to remember the reason those stories are newsworthy is that they are so rare. In fact, fewer than a half of a percent of people who use online dating apps and services will experience an online dating scam.
When scams are targeted at people who are already purposely making themselves vulnerable, the damage can be serious. In 2016, a Japanese woman met a man online who she thought was a U/S/ Army Captain stationed in Syria. Over the course of a year she sent him more than $200,000, leaving her nearly bankrupt, before she finally discovered he didn’t exist and was, instead, a network of 14 cyber criminals operating in Los Angeles and Nigeria.
The average cost of an online romance scam is $2600. People over the age of 70 can expect a much higher loss than that. The cost of the average romance scam for septuagenarians is $10,000.
Back in 2012, one woman found her online lover of two years was a scammer who had taken her for more than $1 million, after she had liquidated her retirement, investments, and even some of her parents’ savings.
How Do Scammers Operate?
Scammers who target online daters know that dating is already a vulnerable situation for most people. They know how to exploit that vulnerability. They will create fake profiles using photos they find or purchase online. Lost or stolen devices full of photos of the same person are a treasure trove. They make the fake profile more believable.
While asking someone for a photo of themselves making a particular uncommon gesture or holding up a current newspaper has been a reasonable way to detect such fraud in the past, deep fakes make this less than foolproof.
Scammers will then attempt to build a relationship with their target through frequent contact. It is the same process as getting to know someone you are interested in dating.
Once trust is built, they will ask for money or hint at the fact they are in dire financial straits in order to get a victim to willingly give them money. Usually, it will be for things like medical expenses or even travel expenses to visit the victim.
One scammer in 2017 was found to have defrauded 30 victims of $1.7 million. His most common tactic was to tell victims to take out a credit card in their name, withdraw money from the account, and then wire it to South Africa.
Preventing Fraud And Cyber Scams
If you want to protect yourself from online dating scams, start by using reputable and well-known sites and apps. When you get a match, do a reverse-image search to be sure they didn’t just steal photos from someone else online.
Check out other accounts associated with their name for inconsistencies in their story. Perform a complete background check on anyone you are serious about for red flags like high debt, poor credit, poor work history, and more.
If you do find you have been the victim of an online dating scam, stop communicating with the person immediately and contact authorities. Notify the dating app or site of the incident and be sure to take screenshots as proof. If you paid the scammer with a gift card, contact the issuing company so they can be made aware of the fraud.
The good news is that as long as you take reasonable precautions, online dating can be extremely safe. Learn more about how to date online safely with these tips for safe online dating and infographic below.
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Author: Brian Wallace
Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency based in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies that range from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian also runs #LinkedInLocal events nationwide, and hosts the Next Action Podcast. Brian has been named a Google Small Business Advisor for 2016-present and joined the SXSW Advisory Board in 2019.