Many looking for a partner this Valentine’s Day will turn to social media or dating websites to make a potential love connection. If you’re wary about trying them, or you’ve been burned in the past, you’re right to be dubious. Internet dating and romance scams, dubbed “catfishing,” are on the rise according to the FBI, and the Better Business Bureau has seen a two-fold increase in complaints over the last year regarding online dating services. Arm yourself with information to protect yourself before you take a dip in the online dating pool.
Social networking and online-dating websites now surpass churches, fitness clubs and bars as meeting places for individuals looking to make a connection. Unfortunately, these havens for lonely hearts are also infested with criminals looking to exploit the vulnerable. Scammers pose as someone else, often stealing a photograph of a good-looking person from the Internet, then use their fake profile to target people looking for love. Once they’ve hooked their victim and wooed them into a false sense of security through their declarations of infatuation, there are a number of money-making scams they’ll try.
Find a Trustworthy Online-Dating Company. The Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) provides business reviews free-of-charge, so examine any site you’re considering posting a profile to. Look for a history of satisfied customers and resolved complaints. Big players like Cupid.com and Match.com have precautionary measures in place, so users who have negative experiences can get their issues resolved quickly; smaller sites may have less security for spotting a scammer. Some sites like Cupid.com and Flirt.com employ software that scans IP addresses, profile photos and behavior patterns of their users so they’re able to identify fraudulent accounts and block them from their communities.
Protect Your Personal Information. Set up an email address for yourself that is only used for your online dating account. It is not necessary to provide your full name, address, phone number, link to your Facebook page or work details when setting up your profile, so don’t include those details. Provide additional personal information only once you’ve gotten to know each other better. Make sure to have several phone conversations with your new love interest before agreeing to meet in person and always meet in a public place.
Use Your Instincts. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers love to use pictures of beautiful people, particularly trustworthy ones like men and women in uniform. Beware of any relationship where the person professes his or her undying love immediately. Flattery is nice, but too much of it too quickly should set off your warning bells. Eloquent romantic language is often plagiarized from elsewhere on the internet and it’s easily discovered through a quick Google search. If someone claims to have been born in the United States, but uses poor grammar or verb conjugation, be wary; they may be a scammer from a foreign country. Lastly, and most importantly, run for the nearest exit if anyone asks you to wire them money for any reason (travel expenses, medical emergencies and financial difficulties are common).
Do Your Homework. Upload a photo of your date to Google Images by clicking on the camera icon on the side of the search field and choosing “Upload An Image.” If the picture appears under the name of several people, you know it’s not legit. If you’ve been communicating through email, you can use the IP address from the email URL to tell you where the email was sent from. If your date claims to be from Minnesota, make sure she’s where she says she is. Review their profile thoroughly and check into details of information they provide by asking questions they should be able to answer or using Internet searches to verify what they’re saying is accurate. Test your date’s knowledge of local events and places if they claim to live in your city and watch for mistakes.
Video Chat for Security. Before meeting or offering personal information to someone you’re interested in, arrange to use a free video chat service like Skype, Google Video Chat or Facetime to “see them” before you meet.
Report the Scammer. If you think you’ve been victimized or you’ve identified a potential fraud, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov). They’ll report it to higher authorities and their data analysis links complaints together to help to identify culprits.