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Since the earliest days of the internet, the web has been used by nefarious individuals to entangle online users in various cons and scams. Misleading job postings, false lottery and inheritance claims, advance-fee “Nigerian prince” emails, and romance cons are just a few of the most common online scams. As with most online scams, romance scammers are usually after one thing: your money.
Though scammers will continue to seek out new targets, most scam artists behave in predictable ways. You don’t have to fall prey to a romance scammer! The #1 rule of staying safe is protecting yourself financially from scammers. Keep your personal details safe, and NEVER send money to someone you’ve only met online!How do you identify a scammer, though? By learning to recognize the strategies and the lies told by scammers, you can better protect your heart and your wallet. Here are a few red flags to watch out for.
They’re Successful, Romantic, and Respectable
Online dating scammers will often steal the pictures of attractive social media influencers or individuals with modelesque good looks to use as their profile pictures. Fake profiles often depict successful-looking individuals who appear to be well-dressed and well-established in their careers. These profiles are often designed to evoke feelings of sympathy and trust in potential victims, too. A good-looking soldier, doctor, engineer, or nurse might be the ideal persona for a potential scammer. Scammers may claim to be widowed or single parents. They might seem particularly ethical or highly romantic.
Of course, some people really are just genuine, good-looking, successful individuals! Trust your gut when looking at a profile. Is this man’s profile lengthy and filled with cliché romantic platitudes? Have you gotten a message from a great-looking engineer who doesn’t appear to have filled out the details on his dating profile? If something feels “off,” it probably is. Proceed with caution, and don’t provide these individuals with additional information about yourself until you’re convinced that they’re legitimate users.
They Live Abroad
Most scammers live in foreign countries. To account for this, scammers often invent lies to explain why they’re currently living abroad. Someone may claim to be American or European but may be living elsewhere in Asia or Africa. Scammers often claim they’re military members, employed on oil rigs, or are doctors working abroad.
Though online dating has made it possible to date people from around the world, be cautious when courting someone who claims to live abroad. It’s easy for a scammer to keep their con going when they’re able to avoid meeting face-to-face. Why is this person seeking a long-distance relationship far from their current place of residence? Though it’s possible that they’re planning on returning to your country or are simply interested in forming international friendships, it may be best to approach these types of long-distance relationships with caution. The intentions of these individuals may not be purely romantic. To establish the fact that the individual is who they say they are, arrange a time to video chat. If they allow you to see their face and their surroundings, they are likely not a professional scammer.
It’s A Whirlwind Romance
Scammers will try to charm you as quickly as possible. A genuine connection takes time to establish; most people who date online prefer taking things slowly, working towards a committed relationship over time. With romance scammers, things will feel like “love at first sight.” Your online lover may quickly turn to charm you with pet names and poetry. Though you might feel enchanted by such professions of love, take a step back and look at the situation realistically. How long have you two known each other? Does this person really know that much about you? How well do you know them? You’ve likely messaged other individuals online before. If this relationship seems to be moving much more quickly than usual, you should ask yourself whether ulterior motives could be involved.
A typical first contact from a scammer:
"Greetings My Dear.
My pleasure here, My name is Frank I found your profile here very interesting and touching. I hope we can start with friendship to know each other better. due to work and time am not always active here and maybe if you don't mind you can text me on email so we can have a nice conversation there. here is my email address: xxxxxx
I will be very glad to hear from you. Have a beautiful day! xxx"
Details Just Don’t Add Up
Romance scammers often invent elaborate stories about their lives, as well as excuses that are used to mask their true identities and motives. If you are on the receiving end of such stories, you may recognize that the things you’re being told don’t quite make sense. In some cases, deception may be obvious. In other instances, you may simply have a “gut feeling” that something isn’t right. When provided with facts or information surrounding events or work, Google them to see if they make sense. If someone has nothing to hide, the details of their lives will likely be fairly mundane. If you’re being told outlandish stories on a regular basis, you’re likely being deceived.
Pay attention to grammar and syntax, too. Though a romance scammer will likely try to charm you in your native language, it may be apparent that it’s not their mother tongue. If someone claims to have a Ph.D. but sends messages that sound like a bad copy-paste from Google Translate, there’s probably something fishy going on. If someone claims to be an educated native speaker from your country but writes in a way that suggests otherwise, watch out!
They Want to Move to Another Site or Messenger
After getting to know someone on a dating site, it’s likely that you’ll be interested in getting to know the individual off-site as well. Romance scammers, however, may be particularly insistent upon changing your means of communication. If someone is encouraging you to move off-site - e.g. to What's App or to private email - after the first messages, it is a red flag. Be wary of individuals who ask for your phone number, email address, or messenger contact information shortly after meeting you. Though this may seem innocent enough, this is a common trick scammers use to avoid getting caught. Why do romance scammers do this? By moving off-site, scammers hope to avoid being discovered by site moderators. Online dating sites are becoming increasingly proficient at identifying scammers’ profiles. If a romance scammer can get you using a messenger instead, they can avoid detection and can more easily con other individuals on the dating site. Though moving off-site may mean nothing on its own, in conjunction with other signs it may indicate that someone is a scammer.
Instead of moving off-site, stay on the dating site. Only exchange other forms of contact information once you are certain that the person you are contacting is both real and sincere in their intentions.
Plans Always Fall Through
If you’ve met someone that you’re really interested in, you’ll likely want to establish a deeper connection with them. Most of us aren’t satisfied with only chatting via written messages. At some point, most of us would like to video chat with our love interest or, if possible, meet up with them in person.
Romance scammers will do their best to avoid both video chats and physical meet-ups. Scammers will often tell implausible stories about why they can’t video chat. If someone claims to have “no webcam” or a “broken phone” in 2020, and the issue persists for weeks or months, you can be fairly sure that they are a scammer. If you try to meet up with someone and they bail on you more than once, citing excuses like family emergencies, travel delays, or illnesses, it is also fairly likely that they aren’t who they say they are.
If someone fails to show you their face, you should reflect on what other red flags may have appeared throughout the course of your relationship. Sometimes, someone may have lied about their appearance but nothing else. These people are often termed “catfish.” Rather than being malicious scammers, catfish are often insecure individuals who have, for one reason or another, stolen another individual’s photos or identity for online use. Being catfished, however, can hurt just as much as being scammed. If you think someone may be lying to you about their identity, proceed with caution. You may be able to get them to admit to their deception. If not, you may simply need to move on.
Money is an Issue
Ultimately, most romance scammers are after money. Some scammers may be bold enough to ask you for money after just a week or two of communication; others may play the “long con” and may only begin sending you requests after a few months of communication. The stories may be different, but most scammers’ tales are similar. Some will claim they need the money for an emergency, such as an operation. Others may claim they urgently need the funds to book a flight out of a troubled country, or to obtain a necessary visa. Some will claim they need to pay back a debt or a ransom fee. By using such stories, con artists can claim that they need large sums of money, usually as soon as possible.Simply stick to the #1 rule: Never send money to someone you’ve never met! Sending gifts or financial “aid” to an online love interest is almost always a bad idea. A scammer might start small, but they will keep coming back to you with stories and demands if you begin sending them money. If someone you met online is interested in your money, they likely have no real interest in getting to know you as a person. If someone begins asking you for money, end your communication with them as soon as possible. You’ll be glad you ended things with just a broken heart, and not a broken piggy bank, too!
Are They Real? Ways to Check
In many cases, it can be impossible to establish exactly who is behind a romance scam or a fake profile. You can, however, do your research to determine whether or not the name and photos you have been given belong to the person in question.
First, try using Google Reverse Image Search to reverse-search an individual’s photos. If someone looks like a model, you might find that their photos have actually been stolen from someone else’s online profile. If you have someone’s full name and location, Google it, too. You may be able to find details that establish that a person by that name lives in that location. Turn to social media, too. In this day and age, most of us have a social media presence that extends to multiple websites. Does this individual have a Facebook profile with pictures of them from over the past decade? Do they have an Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn profile? Even if someone no longer uses these sites, it’s important to simply see if they’ve used them regularly in the past. If someone has multiple profiles with a few photos of themselves over the years, you can rest assured that they’re likely who they say they are.
Some people do have a more limited online presence. If so, simply ask if you can video chat at some point in the near future. If they have nothing to hide, they will likely have no issue with showing you their face.
If you suspect that someone is using the 50plus-Club to commit romance scams, contact site administrators by reporting the profile in question. Click on the “Report this Profile” button on the individual’s profile page; site administrators will examine these profiles and delete any fake accounts.
If you find yourself talking to someone online and then later realize that you’ve been deceived, don’t feel bad about it. Not every romance scam is obvious from the start, and many individuals lie about their lives online. Exaggerating one’s height is one thing; being blackmailed or extorted out of money, however, is something else altogether. If you engage with someone online and have been threatened or scammed, report the profile to the site as soon as possible. Most importantly, remember our #1 rule: never send money to anyone online! By trusting your gut, acting wisely, and reporting fraudulent profiles, you can protect yourself and others from romance scammers. By doing so, you can save yourself from every risk except the one that we all must face: the risk of a broken heart!
Photo: Tanya / stock.adobe.com