How to spot and avoid online dating scams
30 April 2021
A failed relationship could give you a broken heart, but it shouldn't leave you out of pocket. Welcome to the world of romance scammers, where a dating profile that seems like Mr or Mrs Right could be a opportunistic criminal who’s attempting to access your life savings.
Scammers are drawn to dating sites because they know that the people on there are looking to make a personal connection, and they can use this to their advantage. Victims have transferred thousands of pounds to scammers they met on dating sites, and it isn’t always easy to get that money back. We’ve got some signs and tips that should show you how to avoid online dating scams.
What is catfishing on the internet?
‘Catfish’ is a 2010 documentary and spinoff MTV series that follows people who build online relationships with people they’ve never met in real life. Often the person they thought they were talking to turn out to be using pictures of somebody else on their social media profiles, and are then dubbed a “catfish”.
The catfishing from the original documentary started on Facebook, but you can also be catfished on dating apps like Tinder, in chatrooms or even through fake video chats on Skype.
Is there a law against catfishing online?
It’s not illegal to use somebody else’s pictures online, but it almost certainly would break the terms of service of the platform they’re using. If you come across a fake profile you should report it to the dating site or social network wherever possible.
Where catfishing can become illegal is if the scammer uses the fake profile to trick you into sending them money. This is fraud, and it is against the law.
How can I tell if I’m talking to a romance scammer
If the person you’re talking to online is reluctant to talk on the phone or meet up in real life, it’s possible that they’re not who they’re pretending to be.
Asking you to move your chat off the dating site
A common tactic of dating scammers is to ask you to talk on email, text or Whatsapp, in case the dating site or app gets wise to their scam.
They seem to be in another country
One of the scenarios that romance scammers often use is that they’re stuck abroad on a business trip and don’t have access to their bank accounts. Scam victims frequently report being asked to send money internationally to pay for an alleged visa, only never to hear from them again.
Their profile is too good to be true
Does the person you’re talking to look like a model? Or do they make it clear that they have a great job, are very wealthy or charitable? These are common tactics of dating scammers.
They ask you too many questions
Some romance scammers are trying to gain enough information about you to be able to steal your identity, it’s not all about getting you to send them money.
It gets serious, too soon
Is the person you’re talking to professing their love for you without meeting up in real life? They could be attempting to gain your trust so you’ll be more willing to send them money.
They’re experiencing a tragedy
It sounds cynical, but scammers will often tell you that they are recently bereaved or that they or someone they are close to is seriously ill to make you feel sorry for them. It’s a red flag that victims often describe in their accounts of being scammed.
It’s not adding up
If they can’t keep their story straight, or don’t know what you’re talking about when you bring up something you’ve told them before or they’ve told you, it’s a bad sign. Scammers don’t always work alone, and if they’ve forgotten past conversations it could be a group effort.
What to do if you suspect you’re talking to a dating scammer
Reverse image search their profile photo
If you right click on their picture on Chrome it should come up with the option to search Google for this image, or copy the photo and paste it into Google Images to see whether the picture is being used elsewhere online.
Ask to talk on the phone
If they give you a number with a foreign area code or have an unusual accent for where they’ve told you they’re from, it’s likely you’re being catfished.
Whatever you do, don’t send them money
If you’ve never met someone in real life you should never transfer them any money. Scammers are known to hire actors to meet you, so even if you’ve met up once or twice you could still be at risk of being scammed.
Tell your bank
If you think you might have shared your bank or credit card details with a scammer then let your bank or credit card company know as soon as possible. They might be able to block your card or hold any unusual transactions before the scammer can access your money.
If you’ve been a victim of a scam, you can report it to the police through Action Fraud They could catch the scammer and stop somebody else falling victim to them later down the line.