Dating Safety in a Digital World – Part III: Avoiding Scams

Part III in the series Dating Safety in a Digital World is perhaps the most important and most empowering (read Part I and Part II). In this part of the series, we’ll talk about how to identify and avoid online dating scams and even give you a few tools to combat online scammers as well.

Online dating has taken off in popularity over the past 5 years. Despite the increase in popularity and exposure that online dating has experienced, online daters remain vulnerable to scams and I would be doing you, our readers, a great disservice if I failed to include the threat of scammers in my discussion of online dating safety.  Online scams are the very definition of an international issue, spanning multiple continents and dozens of countries.  Scammers often base operations outside of the U.S. because the likelihood of investigation and prosecution are slim to none in their host country.  Unfortunately, many that fall victim to online scams never report the incidents because of their own shame in falling for the scam to begin with.

While the details of how scams are perpetrated isn’t necessary for the purpose of this discussion, being able to identify and avoid the scams is paramount. If you’re interested in learning more about the types of scams and how lawn enforcement deals with the problem, I recommend starting at the source – the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has published a Top 10 Online Scams article that is worth a read. From an online dating perspective, I will focus on a few of the most common scams you will encounter while dating online.

Scam Tactic #1 – Stranded U.S. National

By far, the most common scam I witnessed in online dating was one where a U.S. national was ‘stranded’ in a foreign country (often somewhere in Africa). Most often, a set of very unfortunate events has placed them in a terrible situation in a 3rd world country.  The catch?  By sending them only a few hundred dollars, you can help them get out of their jam and back ‘home’ to the U.S.  These scammers are successful because they are often patient in their delivery.  I’ve heard of this scam taking months to setup before there is even a mention of sending money.  They often start out as legitimate-sounding relationships where the scammer attempts to cultivate your trust and take advantage for your feelings.  Don’t ever send anyone money, especially if you’ve never met them in person.

Scam Tactic #2 – Sick Family Member

Another very common scam is for users to ask for money to assist with a sick family member, most commonly their parent or child.  Like the Stranded National scam, the perpetrator often takes time to build a relationship before asking for money. Don’t under-estimate the scammers ability to build their backstory in these scams as they are often refined by the scammers over multiple attempts that came before you.

Scam Tactic #3 – 419/Foreign Lottery Scam

Although less common with online dating, the 419 or Foreign Lottery scam is still widely used with online daters as the target.  This scam is most often perpetrated through other online dating site users that you communicate with where they are simply trying to ‘harvest’ your Email address for the purpose of including in scammer distribution lists.  A scammer harvests Email addresses by blasting out a large quantity of Emails to as many accounts as they can.  Any one that replies is considered a valid address and will likely be inundated with spam and targeted by the scammer.  The easiest way to pick out the 419/Lotto scammer is if they ‘suggest’ Emailing using a regular Email address very quickly rather than using the dating site’s built-in Email system.  They will often make such a suggestion on the first or second communication.  Be very careful about sending your Email address to anyone prematurely or you’ll wind up with an inbox full of junk!

Resources to Combat Scammers

The best defense against becoming the victim of an online scam is awareness and, again, healthy dose of skepticism.  Don’t be afraid to question the intentions of those you meet online.  I also uncovered an online resource that may provide some assistance to those that question the intentions of the person they’re communicating with.  The scammer database ‘Romance Scam’ (http://www.romancescam.com) is an attempt to catalog common scammer practices, profiles and even photos used by scammers worldwide.  I found the scammer photo library quite useful in helping to identify if the person you’re talking to is a potential fake.  If you see their picture in the scammer photo album there’s a very good chance they’ll be asking you for money before too long.

Another helpful resource to utilize if you suspect a potential match may be less than honest is the photo lookup site called http://tineye.com (notice no ‘www’).  Tineye searches their database of over one billion images and displays other sites that the image also resides on.  This can be very helpful in identifying images that appear legitimate but may have been stolen from other users or sites.  If the image you’re searching for has more than a few hits on Tineye, chances are it’s a stock photo or was stolen.

With these tools, and the ones found in Dating Safety in a Digital World parts I and II you can approach your online dating experience with confidence and security, knowing that you’re equipped to handle any dating curveballs that may be thrown at you along the way. With a little preparation and knowledge you can make your online dating experience a much more enjoyable and successful one!