Smarter Dating: 4 Warning Signs You Need to Watch for Online

Kelly E.

Spend less time with time-wasters and more time finding your perfect match.

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We always think we won’t be stupid enough to fall for a scam, but romance scams are increasing and people aren't just getting their hearts broken, they're losing thousands. $143 million was lost in 2019 to romance scams (US Federal Trade Commission). According to the 2018 UK fraud statistics, 63% of scam victims are women. What's worse is scams are getting harder to spot. Some scammers spend months building up your trust, convincing you it's true love.

I met my first husband online but by the time I became single again, the whole scene had changed. If you're in the same position, dating again after a long break, you'll understand what I'm talking about. Dating apps and swipe culture is intimidating! I joined some Facebook singles groups to get tips but reading all their stories about scammers online just scared me more.

I decided not to risk it. I avoided the apps and dated men I met in person only.

Then I found a savvy group of single ladies who have the swiping-thing sorted. They spot scammers in seconds, weed out the weirdos, and have been on some fantastic dates with genuine men. Some of them even found love online. If you’re like I was and worried about the scammers, here are their top three tips:

How to spot a romance scam

1. The Profile Stealer

Found a handsome army man? You might want to run their photo through a reverse image searching tool. In fact any guy (or girl) who looks too good to be true, might be just that. Guys in uniform, men or women who look like models, ruggedly handsome older men, and successful looking business men are all red flags.

Think that's cynical? Sure, the gorgeous match you've found could be genuine, but more and more scammers have been stealing profile pictures — especially of soldiers, models, and ship captains — and using them on dating sites. A quick search of any profile pictures is usually a good safeguard even if nothing seems suspicious. Why not run a check and be on the safe side?

There are often other clues too. They might say they are currently deployed overseas but usually live in the US. They tell you they can't do a video call or meet in person because they are travelling but will be back soon.

Many dating experts will say to meet up or have a video-call as soon as you can. This is good advice. Even if the person is who they say they are, we can look different in photos than in real life. Looks aren't everything but you want to know early on if you're putting energy into getting to know someone you're attracted to and have chemistry with. I dated a guy who only took head shots looking up into the camera, never a full body shot. He looked slim and fit in his photos but in real-life was very overweight. We still dated but he certainly didn't look the same as his photos!

How to check images:

  • If the say they live one place because of work but usually live in another, they might be telling the truth but it might be a scam. Run a reverse image search like TinEye.
  • Scammers often have only one or two images. Ask for another one and see what you get.
  • Ask for a specific photo: holding up four fingers for example. If they are the person in the photo there should be no problem sending a specific selfie.
  • Meet or video call as soon as you can. If they make a lot of excuses, be wary.

2. The Love Bomber

The clue to a scam may be in how charming and sweet they are, according to experts.

Computer scientists are working hard to prevent romance scams. In 2018 scientists from the UK, US and Australia collaborated to create a AI-based system to analyse and spot scammers.

The AI system identified the same thing that my group of swipe-savvy women discovered: that scammers use more emotive language. Emotional language is designed to hook you in, flatter you, and make you fall fast.

Three words are used the most — “caring”, “loving”, and “passionate”.

“Good morning beautiful” and “my love” are two other common ones.

How to discern charm from scam:

  • Love bombers will profess their feelings quickly, make promises, and try to get you emotionally hooked.
  • If someone starts their interaction with "Good morning, gorgeous" or tells you how perfect you are for them before getting to know you, chances are they want something from you.
  • Love bombing is also a sign of a narcissist or manipulator — real love happens slowly over months, not days or weeks. Don’t let anyone rush you. It feels nice to be in love but you want to make sure it's the real deal.

3. The Invisible Man

They want to meet you and you’ve started making plans together. It's all very exciting! Then, the flight is cancelled, work came up, they have to delay the meeting — this guy is full of excuses.

Most scammers avoid seeing you in person or on a video call. This is often when they start asking for money.

“I really wanted to come see you, but my visa was stolen and I can’t pay for my flight.”

“My mother became unwell so I need to stay here. She has medical bills she can’t pay. Would you lend me the money?”

They might even get another person involved to convince you to send money. But people are getting smart to this, so scammers have changed their tactics.

Lately, scammers have been sending money to their victims instead and asking them to do things with it — open bank accounts, send them a gift card etc. This is a money laundering scam.

How to avoid becoming a pen pal with benefits:

  • Ask to meet quickly or video call. That way you do two things: If they refuse to meet, you’ve weeded out the scammers and guys who are cat-fishing. If you do meet, you can get to know them more and find out if there’s a spark in person. We can read a lot more from gestures, facial expressions, and body language (and our sense of smell!) than we can from messaging. No point wasting time falling for a guy who isn’t who you think.
  • Don't invest too much emotionally before you meet someone. It may feel like you really know them with all your long talks into the night, but until you meet in person they are a stranger. Falling in love with a stranger is a recipe for heartbreak later.
  • If money is asked for or sent for any reason and you haven’t met— run!

4. The Chat Bot

The guy or girl you’re talking with might be not even be human. They could be a chat bot! Automated scams are on the increase. Chat bots are getting more and more advanced.

In this scam, the aim is to get you to move to another site. They ask you to try out a game, website, or chat service and move off the dating platform. It’s a way of tricking you into giving up financial details or download malware.

These bots are clever computer programs but they often use weird phrases and don’t pick up on humor, especially sarcasm.

How to check for signs of life:

  • If the conversation feels a bit off, try being sarcastic and see how they respond.
  • Notice if they use odd phrases or answer your questions in a strange way. Trust your instincts. They might have English as a second language or they might be a bot.
  • If anyone insists you move your conversation to another service or site be very wary.

Are there any good guys/girls left?

Dating apps have made it a lot easier to get in contact with great dates, but they’ve also made it easier for losers and scammers to contact us too.

If you’re single and in the dating world, be encouraged by the ladies I met and find those good dates among the duds. There are still plenty of great men and women out there!

Dating can be exhausting but it can also be fun and exciting. Now you know how to spot scammers, you can spend less time on the time-wasters and more time finding your perfect match!

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