More and more love stories start with someone ‘swiping right’, thanks to dating apps that make it possible to meet people whose path you otherwise would not have crossed.
But these dating apps also have a dark underbelly: they allow so-called ‘romance scammers’ to prey on victims without ever having to speak to them face-to-face – or even over the phone.
In 2020 there was a 20 per cent increase in bank transfer fraud linked to romance scams compared to 2019, a recent survey revealed. Meanwhile, a staggering £68m was lost to digital dating scams in 2020.
As the winter nights draw in and ‘cuffing’ season begins, many singletons are stepping up the search for someone to couple up with before Christmas.
But if you’re looking for the perfect match online, how can you be sure they’re in it for you, and not your cash?
Speaking to FEMAIL, UK-based online security expert Chris Parker, founder of WhatIsMyIPAddress.com, has shared seven red flags to look out for if you’re looking for love online…
UK-based online security expert Chris Parker, founder of WhatIsMyIPAddress.com, has shared seven red flags to look out for if you’re looking for love online. Stock image
1. They travel frequently for work, are posted overseas, or live abroad
Chris explained online romance scammers often don’t live near you, or indeed even in the same country. This makes any in real life meeting much more difficult, removing one way of verifying that they are who they claim to be.
‘Many scammers pose as jet-setting corporates or soldiers posted overseas,’ he warned. ‘As well as adding to their glamour and excitement, this also gives them a solid excuse not to meet up in person.
The expert goes on to say that while this is not a definite indicator of a dating scam, when combined with other red flags, it might be time to distance yourself from your digital date.
2. They declare their love early on and shower you with compliments
Online scammers don’t waste time, according to Chris. If they think you are likely to fall for their ploy, they will declare their love for you after only a short period of time.
‘This approach is designed to flatter,’ said the expert. ‘Having someone profess their love for you is a compliment, and it’s easy to fall under the romantic spell as well.’
He added that beyond this, instigating such rapid development in your relationship also puts you on the back foot, preventing you from thinking too much about what your date’s actual motives are by sweeping you up in their ‘gushing words of praise.’
He continued: ‘If your online date is coming on too strong, pause for a moment to reflect on their intentions – they might just be eager, but they may well be a scammer.’
3. They ask for money – even a small amount – for a tragic reason
While it might be normal to go Dutch on some drinks or a meal out on a date, there is no reason at all for your digital date to ask you for money, warned Chris.
‘If you are asked for any money at all, be on your guard,’ he said. ‘Scammers often use the foot-in-the-door technique with victims, initially asking for a small sum of money before increasing it gradually over time to a more sizable amount.’
He goes on to highlight how such requests for money are often couched in tragic circumstances – their family member is ill and they need money to visit them, for instance, or they were burgled and can’t afford to buy food that week.
‘These are designed to induce sympathy and pull on the emotional bond you’ve built over time, making it difficult to refuse,’ he added.
Chris explained that online romance scammers often don’t live near you, or indeed even in the same country. Pictured, stock image
4. They look impossibly attractive
According to Chris, almost every online dating scammer uses a photo or photos featuring an impossibly beautiful man or woman.
‘This tactic taps into a person’s sense of self-worth, flattering potential victims into falling for their ploy,’ the expert explained.
‘Giveaway signs are people with flawless skin or hair, free from imperfections like moles, acne, or birthmarks, or perfectly lit and posed photos.’
Chris added that such photos are often lifted from elsewhere on the web, so it’s worth doing a quick reverse image search on Google to find out if your date’s photos are original and genuine.
5. They have no digital footprint
The expert advises conducting a quick search for your date on Google and says there is a chance they aren’t who they say they are if they lack such a digital footprint.
‘In this day and age, virtually everyone has a digital footprint,’ he pointed out.
‘It’s almost impossible to use the internet and not leave some form of trace around the web, in the form of social media profiles, forum comments, work profiles, and so on.’
He continued: ‘That’s not to say that a lack of these traces is, in itself, a sign of a scam – some people are just cautious about the information they share online.
‘But it is certainly a warning sign that should be taken into account when considering if your date is a scammer.’
6. You have TOO much in common
Chris asked: ‘Does your online date share the same hobbies as you? Do they also love the same books and films as you? Do they use the same pop culture references you do?’
He goes on to say how sophisticated online dating scammers often conduct comprehensive research into their targets, crafting a fake persona that complements your personality and making it easier to dupe you.
‘Of course, this in itself shouldn’t be an immediate red flag — there are some wonderful people out there, after all,’ he noted. ‘But use your intuition: if someone seems too good to be true, they may well be.’
7. They refuse video calls
‘We are living in the age of Zoom, Google Hangouts and FaceTime,’ the expert continued. ‘Even before the pandemic, video calls were the norm for people wanting to catch up with friends and family.’
It should be a real red flag if your online date is reluctant to jump on a video call with you.
‘They will likely invent all sorts of excuses to avoid going on camera and show their true likeness,’ he explained. ‘It should go without saying that if your online date refuses to verify who they are with a simple video call, they are likely a scammer.’