Lonely hearts still waiting for their soulmate are easy prey for online dating scams.
Many people search for love through online dating sites, dating apps, or social media. Unfortunately, before you find your prince (or princess), you have to eliminate the frogs.
“Romance” scammers, sometimes referred to as “sweetheart” scammers take advantage of vulnerable people, especially divorced women over 40, by posing as an eligible romantic prospect.
How romance scams work
It all starts with a fake online profile. Scammers may use a fake name or steal the identity of a real person. There is often more than one person perpetuating the scam – there have been reports of a room full of people working from the same script. Often they portray their fictional selves as living overseas or on active duty in the military. This gives them a good reason for why they cannot meet their intended in person.
Romance scams are a long form of social engineering. The scammer can take weeks building an interesting backstory that draws their victim in, but they often express strong emotional feelings in a short period of time, which keeps the victim psychologically engaged. They use words filled with love, share personal information, and sometimes even send their victims small gifts.
Once trust is established, the scammer will push to take the communications to email or an instant messenger service. The new online lover will soon have a problem which requires money to fix. It could be a personal emergency like a family member who needs immediate medical attention, or some kind of financial hardship like a failed business or street mugging.
Most people who are using an online dating site will tell you that their goal is to get off of it as soon as possible. But you have to get on before you can find success, so if you’re just starting, you picked a good time. The two months between Christmas and Valentine’s Day see the biggest increase in new membership signups.
Here’s what you need to do to get started: Decide if you want to join a free site or buy a subscription; choose a site that’s appropriate for you from general mega-sites to niche-interest; fill out a series of questions to build your profile; upload some flattering photos; look through the choices and maybe contact a few; then hope for the best.
This Valentine’s Day, also be wise. Apart from the cybercrooks who leave a trail of broken hearts and empty bank accounts described below, be aware that discerning truth from fiction in online dating can be a challenge.
Exaggerating the facts
People embellish the truth often on online dating sites, like the guy who said he was 5’10” (177cm), and then turned out to be shorter than his date at 5’7” (170cm), or the guy who described himself as “athletic and toned,” but was actually shaped like a turkey leg. Or the ones who post a photo of themselves from 10 years (and 40 pounds) ago.
Lying is no use, because eventually you will be found out.
Online dating takes the fact that hopeful people jump to conclusions to a high art. Being both an animal and water fan, I got excited about a guy who said, “I live on a horse farm, and have a house at the river” in his profile. He was entirely truthful – it was my assumption that let me down. Yes, he did live on a horse farm – someone else’s horse farm – over the barn. And he does have a house at the river – not on the river like I hoped, but in the little town named after the river. And it’s not really his, but belongs to his family. And they want to sell it.
If you want to avoid disappointment, keep your expectations low, then be delightfully surprised when you are proved wrong.
Dear Miss Deborah,
Three months ago, I started chatting with a guy I met online, and we really hit it off – we have so much in common! He looks quite handsome in the photos he sent. He sent me flowers and a sweet teddy bear. Isn’t that romantic? We haven’t met yet, because he is actually supervising a construction project in an African country, but we will when he gets back. I can’t wait.
Yesterday, I got a message from him explaining how he is unable to cash his checks and asking if I could wire him money so he could come home. I’m starting to like him more each day, and I want to meet him. What should I do? Risk rejection or send him the money?
Single and looking again