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There’s Plenty of Fish in the Sea… Including scammers: The Dangers of Online Dating Scams

Many Americans are turning to the internet in order to search for love. Online dating and dating apps are the new wave of the future for both younger generations and older generations alike. And sadly the surge in online dating has also created a potential for scammers to target people looking for love.

When using dating apps, it is extremely easy to create fake identities using stolen images that a scammer can hide behind. In fact, in 2016, almost 15,000 complaints categorized as romance scams or confidence fraud were reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center unit, and the losses associated with those complaints exceeded $230 million.

This scam can affect men and women of all ages because the scammer attempts to connect with their victims in a more personal way. Common scams these thieves use to exploit victims include asking for money for a family member with medical bills, claiming to be the victim of a robbery, or needing funds in order to meet or visit their significant other. Because these scammers have worked hard to fake an emotional attachment to their victim, it is obvious how someone could fall for the scam thinking that they are helping the person that they love.

So what can you do to help protect yourself from such scams? Tips from the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation include:

  • Limit how much personal information you share on your dating profile or via social media

Sharing financial information is an absolute no-no. But, what’s not so obvious is that a scammer can look at your social media and use what they learn about you to gain your trust even quicker. For example, if you have a Facebook post of you going to a concert, and your online S.O. suddenly and unexpectedly brings up that they went to the same concert, they could be lying so you fall for them and believe you have shared interests. This isn’t always a lie, but if it happens repeatedly after you post something specific, it’s a red flag.

  • Watch out for early professions of love!

The scammers needs to be the only love in your life, so early in your conversations he or she may suggest switching communications off the dating site so that you can be exclusive. You can be skeptical about it! It’s okay to not want to give out your number or personal email in your first few conversations.

A scammer might also confess intense feelings or love to you extremely quickly to help move things along. Trust your gut and be doubtful if something feels too fast.

  • Be wary if they start asking for money.

If your online love starts asking for money, that’s a big red flag. They might start dropping hints weeks or months in advance, saying that they’re worried about making rent, paying for a loved one’s prescriptions, or how they wish they had enough money to travel to visit you. These sob stories can make you already sympathize with the scammer when they eventually ask for funds.

If you are considering sending your online date money, ask for as much details and proof as possible. For example, if they ask for money to buy a flight, ask for the travel dates and offer to buy it yourself instead of sending money (you can buy flight insurance in case they don’t show). If this makes them defensive or angry, and they accuse you of not being loyal or trusting, do not back down.

Other tips:

  • Watch out for people with zero online presence other than the dating site. We’re constantly warning people not to overshare, but in the age of social media, depending on your age, it may be unusual to have no online presence. If it’s obvious that their social media accounts were recently created and have little to no detail or pictures of them and their friends/family, be wary.
  • Pay attention to the details. If they claim to live in a major city, do their pictures, stories, and hobbies align? Did they recently claim to travel to London but then say they were in Paris? It could be that they’re jetlagged….it could also be that they’re lying.
  • If you’re unsure if their accounts are fishy or not, show their account to a friend or family member and ask for their thoughts.

If you do accidentally fall for a scam, cease communication and report the scam to the local police, the FBI, the FTC and the dating service. If you are looking to have your money returned to you, make sure you keep records of your messages (text, email, on the dating app, etc.), so that the police or FBI can investigate and try to track the scammer.

Online dating sites typically have the ability to monitor and remove members who are behaving inappropriately on the site or are suspected of scamming other users. If you suspect that your online date is a scammer, report him or her to the dating service.

In general, when looking for love online, use common sense when it comes to sharing information with your matches. If your match seems shady, too good to be true, cannot meet in person, or chooses only to message instead of calling or video calling, he/she is likely not the one for you!

 

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s vehicular and customized wheelchair Lemon Laws and Arbitration Programs, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

 

 

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