Written By: Security.org Team | Published: September 28, 2021

In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 54,000 reports of romance scams – a 35 percent increase from 2019.1 Romance scams often involve a person (the scammer) using dating apps or virtual relationships to ask unsuspecting users for money.

In other words, along with the risk of getting your heart broken, online dating may also pose financial and safety risks. While internet dating has helped countless people find companionship, there are still many dangers associated with online dating that you must be aware of to find love safety – and protect your bank account. 

Although online dating companies do their best to protect you, scammers can still find ways to exploit you if you aren’t aware of their schemes. You can make the most of online dating by mitigating your risks – both online and if/when meeting dates in person.

Keep reading to find out how to avoid online dating scams and keep yourself safe on dating apps. We’ll also show you how to be safe when meeting up with a new date for the first time.

Table of Contents

Dating Scam Statistics

  • According to eHarmony, about 40 million people use online dating platforms such as Tinder, Plenty of Fish (POF), and more to search for romantic partners.2
  • As many as 1 in 7 dating profiles may be fake according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).3
  • In 2018, up to 30 percent of dating scam victims became money mules, or unknowingly became accessories in fraudulent activity.4 
  • Online scamming victims tend to mourn the emotional loss of a scam more than the financial loss.5
  • Almost one in three online dating site users were catfished at least once within the span of 12 months.6
  • In 2020, the FTC reported $304 million in losses to romance scams (that’s a 50 percent increase from 2019).7
  • The median individual loss to a romance scam was $2,600 per victim.8
  • 49% of single daters were concerned about being scammed while online dating.9

Why Do Scammers Target Online Daters?

Most often, online dating scammers attempt to gain the trust of unknowing and unsuspecting people looking for love online, only to deceive them for their own benefit. 

Scammers may try to dupe you so they can

  • Steal your identity
  • Steal money
  • Receive gifts
  • Hurt you, kidnap you, or otherwise cause you personal harm
  • Use you for their own personal entertainment or validation (most often seen in catfishing, or using someone else’s photos in place of their own).

The scammer may use financial gifts for personal spending, or sometimes they may use them for illegal purposes. Some people will work in tandem with others in online scamming groups.

Common Online Dating Scams and How to Spot Them

Before you understand how to prevent an online dating scammer from scamming you, you first must understand how to spot the signs of their schemes.

Some signs that you may be interacting with an online dating scammer include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Information on their dating profile seems fake or suspicious.
  • Their profile photos don’t seem to match their information, or they seem very outdated
  • They share photos of other people, or hack into other people’s accounts, and pass them off as their own (often called “catfishing”). 
  • They continually make excuses for not meeting in person.
  • Upon connecting, they immediately ask you to message them on another platform/app.
  • They refuse to talk with you on a phone call or video call.
  • They seem to form a bond or connection with you very quickly.
  • You catch them lying about personal details such as their line of work, their personal appearance, etc.
  • They ask for money or gift cards for travel, medical emergencies, debts, or hospital bills.
  • They ask you for financial information such as your salary.
  • When you talk with this person over the phone, they don’t sound like the same person you’ve been chatting with online.
  • They claim that their job requires them to be overseas. For example, they may claim to be in the military, a doctor, or oil-field worker, so they are never able to meet you in person.
  • They tell inconsistent or grandiose stories about themselves.
  • They may use disjointed language and incorrect grammar despite claiming to have a high level of education.

Wondering how these situations play out in real life? In our research, we asked online daters to share their own experiences with suspicious suitors: 

  • “Someone pretended to be someone who owned an antique shop and said they went to Dubai for an auction. They wanted me to pay for their lawyer fees when they had a problem at the auction. Then I knew it was a scam.” – Man , 70
  • “I was told a very sad story to make me feel bad enough to send money to help this person, and after I sent the money, they blocked all communication with me.” – Woman, 31
  • “A guy said his grandmother was really sick, and he needed bus fare to come to my town where she lived. Then he sent me a really sexy pic, but it really wasn't him.” – Man, 54
  • “Often, I would feel suspicious when the person I am talking to seems very cold and distant as soon as I try to meet them in person…It feels in these situations that the person either has something to hide or that they lied about their livelihood.” – Woman, 22
  • “Most of the men who want to get laid are not shy about it. Some offer cash or other gifts.” – Woman, 52

How to Avoid Online Dating Scams

If you want to avoid becoming the victim of an online dating scammer, here's the bottom line: don’t ever send money to someone you haven’t met in person – no matter what.10

Many online scammers are skilled in the art of soliciting compassion from unsuspecting people searching for love. As you’ve already read, scammers will manipulate innocent people looking for romance online by telling various lies and stories. Even if you think your online love interest wouldn’t bamboozle you out of your money, you simply won’t know for sure until you’ve established an in-person relationship.

Here are some other ways we suggest you avoid online dating scams:

  • Research and cross-check potential matches using internet tools such as Google’s reverse image search.
  • Conduct a background check on your online romantic interest (no, this isn’t weird, it can protect your safety). For example, you can search through your state’s criminal records to see if they have a history of violent crime or fraud. 
  • See if you have any mutual friends with this person on social media and cross-check their reputation with your connections.
  • Never send money to anyone you’ve met online.
  • Don’t use the same photo on your dating profile that you use on your social media accounts – it’s easy for people to do a reverse image search through Google and quickly obtain more personal information on you (such as where you live) than you’d like.
  • Talk to someone you trust if you are in doubt about an online love interest (it’s always good to get an outside opinion).
  • Only use legitimate, reputable dating sites.
  • Be careful about the type of personal or financial information you share with your online romantic interests, such as your address or income (to avoid identity theft).
  • Be careful about the type of photos you share (intimate photos can be used against you if shared with untrustworthy people). 

Overall, remember that having boundaries with your online romantic interests and remaining cautious is more than okay – it’s encouraged. Additionally, researching your online romantic interests isn’t something to be ashamed of, but a way to ensure your safety and the protection of your life, your property, and your assets.

What to Do if You Suspect Someone Is Attempting to Scam You

If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable with someone you’re talking to online, it’s okay to immediately cease all communication with this person. You may block this user on dating platforms and on your phone and, if you wish, you can report them to your dating system’s administrator.

Other reasons to report an online dating profile include (but are not limited to):

  • Requests for intimate photos.
  • Sending harassing messages.
  • Attempting to threaten or intimidate you.
  • Trying to sell you products or services.
  • Seeming to have created a fake profile, or are mimicking a person you know.

If you believe you’ve already been scammed or suspect that your former online romantic interest is indulging in fraudulent or illegal activity, report them to law enforcement immediately. It may protect you and the safety of other future victims.

How to Stay Safe When Meeting a Date in Person

Although meeting someone in person is a great way to ensure that they are who they claim to be, it’s still a good idea to be prepared to meet them in person safely. Unfortunately, meeting someone you met online can be dangerous, too, and you want to make sure to take the proper precautions when meeting the person you’re interested in for the first time.

According to our 2020 study on dating safety, women were far more likely than men to consider their personal safety when dating, and 33 percent of women felt unsafe dating someone they met online.9 Regardless of your gender, we urge you to always consider your personal safety when dating someone online, when meeting them in person, and for the entirety of your relationship.

Whenever you are meeting someone you met online in person, it’s smart to follow these steps: 

  • Meet in a public place. Meeting in public will help you feel more comfortable and will put a social buffer between you and anyone looking to harm you in any way.
  • Tell a friend where you’re going. Tell a friend who you’re meeting, why you’re meeting this person, and where you’re planning to meet them. You can even share your location from your smartphone with a trusted family member or friend during the date. 
  • Listen to your gut. Sure, your date might not be saying or doing anything blatantly wrong or inappropriate, but if you get a bad instinctual feeling in your gut, follow it. Your instinct, sometimes referred to as our subconscious mind’s alarm system, can lead you to safety.
  • Call the date off early if you aren’t enjoying it. If you feel uncomfortable or aren’t enjoying yourself, it’s always okay to end the date early and go home
  • Stay sober and limit alcoholic drinks during your first few meetings. Alcohol can impair your judgment and low your reaction time if something goes wrong. 
  • Don’t hesitate to call the authorities. If someone attempts to harm you in any way, call 911 immediately.

Remember, dating should be fun, safe, and exciting. However, you should always take the necessary measures to preserve your personal safety and wellbeing when engaging in online dating endeavors. Though online dating platforms can be great places to meet romantic interests, they can also be breeding grounds for scammers searching for vulnerable people to deceive. Now that you’re equipped with some basic steps to stay safe, put yourself out there with confidence. 

Sources:

  1. FTC Consumer Sentinel Network Data https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/consumer-sentinel-network-data-book-2020/csn_annual_data_book_2020.pdf 
  2. https://www.eharmony.com/online-dating-statistics/
  3. https://www.bbb.org/globalassets/article-library/romance-scam-study/bbb-study-online-romance-scams-study.pdf
  4. https://www.bbb.org/globalassets/local-bbbs/st-louis-mo-142/st_louis_mo_142/studies/fall-in-love-go-to-jail-bbb-report-on-how-some-romance-fraud-victims-become-money-mules-final-02-09-2019.pdf
  5. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1748895815603773
  6. https://www.ukfinance.org.uk/press/press-releases/over-half-those-looking-love-online-vulnerable-romance-scams
  7. https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/blogs/data-spotlight/2021/02/romance-scams-take-record-dollars-2020
  8. https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2020/02/new-ftc-data-show-consumers-reported-losing-more-200-million
  9. https://www.security.org/safety-while-dating/
  10. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-you-need-know-about-romance-scams#avoid%20losing