Why one in 20 people fall for dating scams - and how to not be one of them

Emma McGowan 22 Feb 2024

Avast researchers have detected a sharp uptick in romance scams--and they're not always happening where you'd expect them to.

Imagine, for a moment, you're deep into the world of online dating, trying to find “The One”—or at least “a One.” You wouldn’t be alone: Online dating is one of the most popular ways for people to meet their match, with 3 in 10 U.S. adults saying they’ve ever used a dating app. And that percentage shoots up to 53% for people under 30, according to Pew Research. 

But as you dive deeper, you might discover a darker side to online romance. According to the Avast Q4/2023 Threat Report, there has been a stark rise in dating scams over the past year. And, even more concerning, we’re seeing a spike not just in the bustling cities of Central Europe and North America, but as far reaching as the vibrant landscapes of the Middle East and Asia. 

So let's take a journey through the global expanse of these scams, peel apart their methods, and arm ourselves with the knowledge to dodge their traps. 

The global reach of dating scams 

In Central Europe and North America, dating scams remain a significant concern, affecting roughly one in every 20 users. Interestingly, there's been a noticeable dip in such activities during the holiday season, an anomaly that has caught our researchers’ attention.  

However, with the recent celebration of Valentine's Day, we're bracing for a potential spike in these scams. The holiday's romantic essence can lower people's defenses, making them more open to digital love interests. This, unfortunately, presents a prime opportunity for cybercriminals to play on emotions and exploit vulnerabilities.  

The surge in dating scams across the Arab states—like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait—and extending to countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand, reflects a broader trend: our world is becoming more connected every day. This increasing interconnectivity, while opening doors to new friendships and relationships, also opens the gates for scammers seeking to exploit our growing digital footprint.  

How romance scammers work 

At the heart of dating scams lies a tale as old as time, reimagined for the digital era: The search for love and human connection. Scammers create fake profiles, luring online daters in with beautiful profile images, super early expressions of love, and constant availability—at least via text.  

Once a romance scammer has their victim hooked, it’s time for “The Ask.” Sometimes it’s a request for help: Maybe their mom has fallen ill and they to pay for treatment or their car has broken down and they can’t get to work or they need a new smartphone in order to be able to video chat with you.  

And, because you think you love them, they know you’re likely to jump to their aid. But once you’ve sent even one dollar, they also know you’re a cash cow that they can bleed drive, because it never stops with a simple plea for help. They’ll figure out every and any way they can manipulate into giving more and more and more, until there’s nothing left to give. 

How to protect yourself against romance scammers 

Navigating the minefield of online dating requires more than just hope; it demands a strategy. Here are essential tips to keep you one step ahead of the scammers: 

  1. Recognize the warning signs.

True love rarely asks for a wire transfer. Be wary of profiles that seem lifted from a fairy tale or love interests who escalate things too quickly. If they're dodging meet-ups or suddenly find themselves in a financial pickle, alarm bells should ring. 

  1. Evaluate your online presence

 In the game of online dating, anonymity is your ally. Use different usernames and emails across dating sites to keep your true identity under wraps. Scrutinize your social media; what you share publicly might be just what a scammer needs to paint you as their perfect target. 

  1. Prioritize video and phone interactions

A face or voice can lend credibility (or reveal a scam). Push for a video chat or a phone call early on. If they're always dodging the camera or the call, it's probably not shyness—it's deceit. 

  1. Conduct your own investigations

Don’t be scared to act as your own detective! A reverse image search might reveal that your new boo’s profile picture is a popular stock photo or belongs to someone else entirely. It's a simple step that can save you from complex heartache. 

  1. Never send money to someone you haven’t met

This one's straightforward—it’s okay to keep your heart open, but your wallet closed. No matter how compelling the story, financial transactions with someone you've only known online and never met in person are a direct route to regret. 

The quest for love in the age of digital dating is fraught with risks, but armed with awareness and caution, we can navigate it more safely. The insights from Avast's Q4 2023 Threat Report aren't just a beacon in the dark; they're a call to action. As we search for connections that warm our hearts, let's not forget to guard them against the cold calculation of scammers. After all, the best love stories are those where the only thing stolen is a kiss—not your life savings. 

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