How to spot scams on dating apps and protect yourself from scammers

Single person with face hidden looks for love on an online dating app while relaxing at home.
December 27, 2022 | Lois Sullivan

Online dating has skyrocketed in popularity, allowing people to connect with individuals in their area and across the globe. But as people have turned to digital platforms to meet and interact with others, online scams have also increased. It's hard to imagine that someone you care about would try to scam you, but it's a reality you have to face when you look for love on dating apps. Explore how to spot romance scams on dating apps so you can protect yourself from falling prey to scammers.

What are online dating scams?

An online dating scam refers to a situation in which someone adopts a fake online persona to gain the trust and affection of another person. The individual often creates the illusion of romance to build trust. A scammer might use this type of relationship to ask for money, request sensitive information to steal the victim's identity, or manipulate the other person to gain favors.

Scammers target people across various demographics, including those who use online dating apps. It's unfortunate because the people using these apps may be more vulnerable since they may feel lonely when they sign up. Getting attention from another person can fulfill a basic human need, but that positive interaction can quickly turn negative. 

In today's world, this scamming is called “catfishing,” a term that comes from a popular documentary. The filmmakers went on to star in a TV show focused on the victims of online dating scams. This show has been on the air for more than a decade, demonstrating the frequency of such scams. 

People of all ages have experienced the effects of online dating scams, although individuals who are isolated or particularly vulnerable tend to be at the highest risk for scams. Additionally, cybercriminals prey on older adults who may not understand the online world or spot red flags as well as younger people.

Warning signs of online dating scams

When you join an online dating platform and download a dating app, you must know what red flags to look for when dealing with a scammer.

Fake profile 

There are a few key warning signs of a fake profile. You might notice that the person you're communicating with has no photo, or the profile picture looks like a stock image. Another warning sign is if the individual is seeking singles in your area but resides or works in a different country. Some scammers might use military deployment as an excuse for why they live abroad. Unless you're open to meeting genuine people who live in other countries, it's best to stick to singles who physically reside in your area.

Details that seem too good to be true

When people seem too good to be true, they might be scammers feeding you the information you want to hear or read. Many cybercriminals claim to have high-ranking or provocative jobs, such as entrepreneurs, models or musicians. They often use fake images of attractive people to get more users to connect with them. Some claim to have a lot of money and promise their victims lavish gifts or special treatment.

Requests to communicate in other ways

Online dating scammers try to move their communication with victims away from online dating apps as quickly as possible. Many companies behind online dating apps have protections to prevent users from sharing sensitive information or harmful links. But when you start communicating on another platform, any embedded safety measures go away, and it's up to you to protect yourself. 

A scammer might ask you to communicate via WhatsApp or Snapchat, as both apps have a disappearing message feature. By ensuring that sensitive messages can disappear, these individuals can prevent permanent digital copies of conversations from being used against them in the future. Be wary of any user trying to move your conversation to a different platform, especially early in your communication.

Conversations that make you uncomfortable

When scammers don't have time to waste, they may start talking to victims in a way that makes the victims feel uncomfortable, even right after beginning the conversation. You should never feel like you have to respond to or interact with someone who makes you uncomfortable. Some scammers use inappropriate language or try to manipulate you into doing things for them. When you feel discomfort, pay attention, as this is your body's way of telling you something isn't right.

A quick profession of intense feelings

Scammers manipulate their victims and often move quickly to target more victims in a short time. This manipulation should be a red flag: Be cautious when someone professes love for you soon after starting a conversation. Using this tactic is particularly successful on vulnerable people desperately seeking connections. As a result, scammers target those who have been single for a long time or have trouble meeting people. Be aware that people who are overly complimentary or extremely devoted early on may be using emotional manipulation tools.

Refusal to meet in person

When scammers use fake photographs or provide inaccurate information about themselves, they don't want to meet in person and expose they're not who they say they are. Some scammers also use fake locations but aren't physically located near you. If someone won't meet you in person but appears to live in your area, this is a warning sign that you might be dealing with a scammer. Even those who refuse to video chat often hide something about an appearance, location or situation.

Some scammers take it further by scheduling a meet-up, only to have something come up or ghost the other person altogether. An inability to meet in person could be a financial tool, as the individual might ask for money to buy a ticket for travel to meet up with you.

Requests for money or financial help

People using dating apps to make genuine connections usually don't ask for financial support. Be wary if you encounter someone who requests that you send money or perform financial transactions on the individual's behalf. Asking for money is common among scammers, especially those who have emotionally manipulated their victims into believing they're in relationships. Vulnerable and caring individuals might fall for a story that emphasizes a “partner's” need, only to find that they're contributing to a scam.

Another online dating scam involves turning unsuspecting individuals into money mules. A scammer might ask you to open a bank account on the individual's behalf or use funds to purchase gift cards. Avoid any situation where you must perform financial transactions for another person.

Online dating apps can benefit those who want to meet new people and form relationships. However, sneaky people also use these apps to exploit others and try to scam their victims into fishy actions. Knowing how to spot scams on dating apps can help you exercise caution so you can use these apps to find genuine people seeking a genuine relationship.

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