Advice Column: Online Dating Scams
I recently joined a dating website. I was contacted by a lovely man and we started to exchange messages. We now email every day, although we haven’t met in person yet. We had arranged to go for a meal, but then he cancelled because he needs to concentrate on fundraising for his daughter – the medicines she needs aren’t available on the NHS.
He’s asked me to contribute, his daughter needs treatment urgently. He’s given me details of a bank account to pay into. I want to help, but I’m unsure because I’ve only known him a short time.
You’re right to be cautious. Unfortunately dating sites are increasingly being targeted by unscrupulous people. It can be difficult to accept that someone you’ve developed feelings for is trying to swindle you. But scammers can be highly skilled at using emotional triggers to persuade people to part with money, or with personal information that might make victims vulnerable to identity theft.
Your friend may be completely genuine, but try to find out if he’s really who he says he is. A reluctance to call you or Skype, or profile information such as educational achievements not matching the content of his messages, could be a red flag that this is a scam.
Other things to look out for include expressing strong emotions in a short period of time, moving the conversation away from the dating site and onto a private channel such as email or instant messaging and asking lots of personal questions – but giving away very little in return.
Trust your instincts and if in any doubt, don’t part with your money. For further help on identifying possible scams contact your local Citizens Advice, or call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.
Using internet dating sites is still a safe way to meet people but it is very important to be aware of the warning signs that may indicate a new friend is not all that they seem. Keeping this in mind when you go online will ensure you spot a fraudster coming and immediately shut them down and move on.
Tell-tale signs your online date may be a fraudster:
- They want to communicate with you through instant messaging and texts, rather than through the dating website or chat room where you met.
- They ask you lots of questions about yourself, but don’t tell you much about themselves.
- They don’t answer basic questions about where they live and work.
- Their profile picture is too perfect – for example they look like an actor or Miss World titleholder.
They start asking you to send them money using a number of different scenarios such as:
- Claiming to be military personnel based overseas who require funds for flights home or early discharge from the forces
- Citing medical related issues they need money for such as a sudden need for surgery, either for the fraudster or the fraudster’s family member
- They’ve arranged to visit you but need money to pay travel costs
Tips to protect yourself from romance fraudsters:
- Don’t put yourself and your identity in jeopardy by trusting people too quickly. Trust your instincts – if you think something feels wrong, it probably is.
- Choose a site that will protect your anonymity until you choose to reveal personal information and that will enforce its policies against inappropriate use
- Protect your privacy and do not reveal too much information online, especially on social networks – do not post personal information, such as phone numbers, on dating sites.
- Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know and trust; fraudsters often demand money for a variety of emotive reasons.
- Wait until you feel comfortable with an individual before telling them things like your phone number, place of work or address.
- Be extremely wary about removing clothes or doing other things in front of your webcam that could be used against you – even if you think you know the other party.
- Use a dating site that offers the ability to email prospective dates using a service that conceals both parties’ true email addresses (avoid using personal email addresses or social networks).
- Set up a separate email account that does not use your real name.
- Pick a user name that does not include any personal information. For example, “joe_glasgow” or “jane_liverpool” would be bad choices.
- Communicate with people locally and not from overseas, although you should be aware that someone might tell you they are in the same country as you when they are not.
- Finally, meet for the first few times in a safe place with plenty of people around, and tell a family member or friend where you are.
To report a fraud and receive a police crime reference number, call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use our online fraud reporting tool.
For further advice on how to stay safe online go to www.GetSafeOnline.org.