Online Dating Scams – How to Identify Them
By Nick Anderson 5 minutes
The internet has bridged the communications gaps by allowing people to connect from miles away. But where it has connected people, it has spawned actors that seek to use communication for malicious intents. Social networks aside, dating platforms have gained popularity. Dating scams are a frequent occurrence due to new people joining social networking and dating platforms. These new identities coming online may not have the awareness to stay protected against such scams. According to the FBI, dating scams were the seventh most reported cybercrime in 2019.
Dating scams are not limited to any gender. As an internet user, you must stay informed on the various scams and their techniques.
What is a Dating Scam?
A dating scam is built on a romantic interest. Like many other forms of scams, the fundamental approach is to gain insight into the target and establish a relationship of trust. Dating scams are more likely to be successful because it takes advantage of the emotional state of the target. It makes them more dangerous because once trust has been established, the victim is much more likely to lower its guard. In fact, losses worth $201 million were reported to the FTC in 2019 – a 5x increase over the previous record of $33 million from 2015. FTC actively reports its findings to make users aware of digital threats through its blog.
Romanic scams rely on fake personas that are fabricated to appeal to a large number of people. Much like a Phishing attempt, the malicious actor would try to lure as many people as it can. It is known as Catfishing; the practice of building a fake persona to establish romantic relationships. Due to limited information, it is most common in dating platforms. Tinder – for example – only allows you to add a short bio, location, and photos. So the only information you may is what the other person tells you.
How to Identity Dating Scams
As we have discussed, the first step towards any successful scam is establishing trust with the victim. It’s not definitive that a scam has to happen sooner into the relationship; it may take some time before the fraudster makes a move. However, there are some very clear signs that you can note.
- The person does not appear for video chat:
It may not always be true, but some scammers will do everything to protect their identity. It is why they will make excuses not to appear in front of a camera. If the person has set up a fake profile photo, then a video call would immediately end the facade.
- The profile looks too good to be true
Scammers will use attractive profile photos and personas that appeal. It’s not just the pretty face, little details like profession and age build towards a profile that looks too ideal. Some might pose as an actor or model to try and charm the other person through glamour and stardom.
- There’s too much interest in your personal information:
The scammer will try to learn about your personal life without giving you too much about its own. If you are an employee, then you may be a victim of Spear Phishing, or a Whaling Attack if you are high up in the executive chain. This practice is known as Pretexting – a social engineering technique where a scammer will try to gather information from several places.
- The person asks for money:
Once there is a connection of trust, the scammer will ask you for some money. The excuse could be anything; for medical expenses, to pay off debt, financial loss, or even for an air ticket to come to meet you. From the perspective of the scammer, a series of small asks could happen if the victim is easily persuadable. In 2017, a woman in her 50s lost $2 million to a person she had never met. The person took advantage of her troubled marriage and built a connection of trust by showering affection. The person fabricated a story about him working on a project, for which he required money. The woman ended up giving every penny he asked for.
- The person asks for personal photos:
Refrain from sharing your information or photos compromising in nature to someone who just met over the internet. In fact, it’s not a good idea at all, regardless of who the next person is. It can be used to blackmail for money.
- The person lives in a different country or travels a lot:
It is a classic way of dodging the question of personal interactions and an excuse for being away when you expect them to be available online. You are less likely to be suspicious that way.
Scammers can even install malicious programs on your computer. Depending on the type of malware, the scammer can have a backdoor to your system, allowing retrieval of sensitive information through a keylogger.
Tread carefully when interacting with people online, especially dating platforms. Always run a background check through sources such as Linkedin. If the person doesn’t appear to have social accounts anywhere, then it should be a strong indication. And never send money online to people you have never met in real life.