With restrictions on meeting people soon to lift, many people could be tempted to turn to dating apps to meet that special someone. But as you look for love, don’t end your relationship with your cash...look out for romance scammers.
During the pandemic, you might think that with all the lockdowns and restrictions placed upon us, dating apps would have experienced a downward spike in users. Not so. In fact, the dating world boomed as people looked for that online connection when a physical connection wasn’t so easy.
But from Monday, July 19, many of the restrictions imposed upon us are lifting, and people are free to meet who they want, where they want, and how often they want. This could lead to an even bigger explosion of people going online to find love and companionship.
But while it’s nice to be told you’re attractive, smart and funny (one assumes, sad face emoji!), you need to be mindful that some people aren’t who they say they are online.
You may have heard of the term “catfishing”, whereby people upload photos of other - usually more attractive - people to lure the person in to chat with them. There’s no law against using someone else’s image, although if you suspect they are pretending to be someone else, you can report the account to the app or site, as that is most certainly a breach of their terms and conditions.
Catfishing becomes illegal, however, if the scammer uses the fake profile to trick you into sending them money. This is fraud, and it is, of course, unlawful.
But how can you tell if you’re talking to a romance scammer or a flirtatious fraudster? Here are some of the tell-tale signs to help you swipe the right way.
You see someone you like the look of, you like their bio, and they seem genuinely nice. Or, someone likes the look of you, they seem sincere and honest, so you strike up a conversation. They might be funny, witty, suave, sophisticated etc, it’s going well. But they don’t want to talk on the phone, or meet up. The thought of a video chat, a function available now on some services brought in as a Covid bolt-on, scares them half to death. Is it possible that they don’t want you to hear or see them because they’re not who they say they are? What reason have they given for this reluctance to move to another level? If the reason seems invalid, move on.
Asking you to move your chat off the dating site
This is a tricky one, because more often than not, if a conversation is going well in the confines of the app/site, there’s a good chance that you’ll want to come off the site and chat on a more familiar platform, most probably WhatsApp, with its veritable smorgasbord of playful and flirtatious emojis and gifs.
But, make sure you’re happy to do this. If you’re not comfortable or suspect all is not well, politely ask to continue using the app. A common tactic of 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 will want to move to a place where they have you alone. It’s the online equivalent of going down a dark alley to chat. Be careful.
“I’m overseas and struggling atm”
Hmmm, are you now? Are you really on that hi-powered business trip to Geneva, New York or Paris? It’s a scenario that romance scammers often use: pretend to be stuck abroad on a business trip without access to their bank accounts. Scam victims frequently report being asked to send money internationally to pay for flights or an alleged visa, only never to hear from them again.
Their profile is too good to be true
Does the person you’re chatting to look like Scarlett Johansson or Chris Hemsworth? Do they resemble a Victoria’s Secret model or a Greek Adonis? Do they make it clear that they have a great job, are very wealthy and charitable? These are common tactics of dating scammers: the gorgeous, well-off good guys and gals. Be careful of sexy. Sexy is sometimes just a façade.
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. Sure you have to ask questions, that’s the whole point of dating: to get to know each other to make a judgement about that person. But are they too intrusive? Are they asking questions that make you feel uncomfortable? Are you left wondering why they need to know the answer to your first pet, where you were born or your mother’s maiden name?
It gets serious, too soon
Calm down, take a step back and cool your jets! Dating is supposed to be fun and flirty. If someone is dropping the L Bomb without ever having met you, alarm bells should be sounding. They could be attempting to gain your trust, playing on your vulnerabilities or pandering to what you want to know or hear so you’ll be more willing to send them money.
They’re experiencing a tragedy
That old chestnut. “I’m really struggling since they left” or “I’m just not sure how I’ll cope” yadda yadda yadda. Yes 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 scam victims often describe in their accounts of being scammed. We’re not being heartless, we’re being realistic here.
Wait, I thought you said…
“Oh yeah no sorry, you must have misunderstood or perhaps I didn’t make myself clear”. A liar will often forget the lies they tell. Mark Twain once wrote: “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything’, and it applies here. They may be a calculated scammer, with a list of everything you’ve said to hand. But sometimes they will slip up and their story will be a little wonky. Or they may not know what you’re taking about when you mention something you have mentioned before. Red light city! 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
Well, you could become an online detective and do some digging of your own, like Googling their name or doing a reverse image search of their profile photo. Pro tip: 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 accent that is not native to where they told you they’re from, it’s likely you’re being catfished. “You said you were from Leeds. You’re more Alan Sugar than Alan Bennett!”
Another authentication tactic you can use is to ask them for a video call, or a Teams or Zoom 'pre-date meet'. There really is no escaping then. If they refuse and seem panicked, this could indicate catfishing. Ask them why they're so uncomfortable with the prospect of a video chat. Some people are of course shy. But if they are who they say they are, this really shouldn't be a hurdle as they will have to show their face some day if they're the real deal!
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.
If you do fall for their scam hook, line and sinker, no matter how silly or embarrassed you might feel, tell your bank as soon as possible if you have shared your bank or credit card details with a scammer. The bank might be able to block your card or hold any unusual transactions before the scammer can access your money.
And finally, report it. If you’ve been a victim of a scam, you can report it to the police through Action Fraud (see below). They could catch the scammer and stop somebody else falling victim to them later down the line.
Remember: dating is supposed to be fun. Don’t get caught with your pants down!
Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).