Online Dating Scams: How to Stay Safe With Online Dating
In recent years, online dating has become very popular with 1-in-5 Americans aged 25-34 years old using one or more of the many popular dating sites and apps, such as match.com, OkCupid, and PlentyOfFish. With the stigma of online dating gone, it’s turned out to be a great way to date, have fun, and potentially fall in love.
However, online dating’s major draw is also its biggest flaw: you have no idea who the person you’re talking to really is. Romance scams are among the most common form of internet fraud, accounting for over $86 million dollars lost by Americans in 2014. It’s not only internet fraud that you need to think about, there is also the chance of physical harm.
CallerSmart is all about protecting you from unknown or unwanted phone calls and texts. When meeting new singles online, exchanging phone numbers is usually one of the first things you do once you decide to meet in person. CallerSmart has an immense database of phone numbers and crowd-sourced information which lets you check your potential date’s number to see if anyone has commented on them. Many comments are positive, while others let you know if the person is a cheater, creep, or scammer.
Regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation it's important to take certain precautions when setting up your online profile and meeting people in person. When setting up your profile there are a few tips to follow:
- Most dating sites require that you use an email to sign up. It’s a good idea to create a separate email that you use specifically for dating. Not only will this help keep you organized, but it will keep the new contacts that you make while dating separate from your personal and work email accounts. If anything goes wrong and you no longer want to talk to the person it’s easy to close the email account.
- Some other dating sites, like Tinder, use Facebook to create a profile. You can create a separate Facebook profile, but that can be a lot of work. We suggest checking your Facebook privacy settings before you start. It’s a good idea to make information like your email, place of work, family members, and so on, visible to only friends or only yourself. Facebook settings can easily be changed so you can decide at any time what information you do and do not want to share.
- When setting up your username and profile with the dating site or app, don’t provide extremely personal information. Don’t use your full name as your username, for example. In the About section, focus on talking about your interests, think about what makes you special and what you’re looking for. We’ve found these 9 Essential Rules for Writing Your Online Dating Profile, though written for women dating in their 50s, to be good things to keep in mind no matter what your gender or age.
When your profile is set up you’ll likely start receiving and exchanging messages with other singles. It’s key to take it slow in online dating. Talk for a few days online via the dating site or app before giving your email or phone number to a person, and only do this once you feel comfortable with them. It’s also a good idea to search the person’s profile pictures via Google. Doing this will show you if the photo of the person you’re speaking with appears on any other sites. If the photo appears on many other sites or comes up under different names this person may be lying to you about who they really are.
Reverse searching an image on Google is easy! If you are using Google Chrome as your browser, right-click the image and select “Search Google for this Image”. This will open Google’s search results for the image in a separate tab.
If you are using a different browser like Safari or Mozilla Firefox, follow these steps:
- Choose the photo that you’d like to search and right click it and in the drop down menu that appears select “Save Image As...”
- Save the photo to your desktop
- Go to images.google.com
- Click and drag the photo that is saved to your desktop to the search bar on Google Images
- Google will show you if the image appears on any other sites and any similar images that it finds
If by doing this you become suspicious and suspect the person you are chatting to is not who they say they are, trust your instincts. Sometimes people will steal the photos of other real people to create fake profiles, so it is a good idea to check this.
There are several other red flags to watch out for when starting a conversation with someone via a dating site or app. With Tinder, there are sometimes malware spammer bots. They usually target men, but also women too. If you’ve met someone on Tinder who responds very quickly and seems like they aren’t listening to what you’re saying, chances are they could be a bot. A major red flag with these bots is if they send you a strange link and ask you to click it. DON’T CLICK IT! This link could put malware on your device and allow scammers to access your information.
Aside from robot scammers, there are also human scammers lurking on dating sites. Red flags include the following:
- The person you are chatting with immediately asks you to talk with them privately via personal email or some other messaging service outside of the dating site or app.
- The person quickly expresses their love or appreciation of you within a few days or weeks of first chatting.
- The person is unable to meet you in person because they are traveling abroad or live far away, then when you make plans to meet up something always happens to prevent the date.
- They ask you for money or to cash a check for them.
Many times online dating scammers will pose as if they are in trouble and need your financial help to get them out of a difficult situation. Before helping someone you meet online, you should ask yourself if the person you are talking with has shown any of the red flags mentioned above. Romancescams.org provides a quick quiz that you can take to see if you might be involved in a romance scam, and also many resources for those who suspect that they may have already fallen victim to a romance scam. They have a database of scam profiles for you to keep an eye out for.
If you feel that someone is trying to scam you it's best to report them to the dating site that you met them on, and file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Sometimes people might be lying about their identity not to scam you out of your money, but for other reasons. Indeed, some people are dishonest about their relationship status, while others might have a criminal past that they are hiding.
Before the Date
After you’ve chatted with a few singles online you might decide that you’d like to meet with one in person. When you feel comfortable with the person and feel that the two of you could be a potentially good match, it’s time to exchange cell numbers so that you can continue your conversations and set up a time and place to meet.
This is where CallerSmart can help you out. With records of over 600 million U.S. phone numbers in our reverse phone number lookup database, you can check anyone’s number and see if any comments have been left about him or her. Our database has compiled hundreds of thousands of names as well as thousands of user comments to help you find out whether your upcoming date is a total catch or a dud. Comments range from positive to negative. The negative comments identify everyone from cheaters to scammers to the more serious stalkers.
After you’ve checked your date’s number it’s time to set up a place and time to meet. There are a few things to keep in mind when doing this:
- Suggest a public place like a coffee shop or restaurant to meet at
- Avoid tradition and don’t have someone pick you up at your house
- Tell a friend or family member about your date, don’t hide it! Tell them the name and number of the person you’re going on the date with and where you’re meeting them. (Don’t forget to give them a call after to let them know how it went!)
There are also personal security apps, like bSafe, that you can download before a date to ensure your safety during and after. bSafe is a great app that can keep you safe in a number of different situations.
With bSafe, you can add your friends and choose a primary emergency contact. Whenever you’re in an emergency or uncomfortable situation where you feel like your safety is in jeopardy, you can send out an alert to friends with a single tap. The app will start broadcasting your location and recording video and sound.
When dating you can use bSafe to check in and show friends where you are. bSafe even has a fake call feature in case the first date gets a little awkward and you’d like to be excused.
If you have an iPhone you can also let your friends know where you are by sharing your location via text:
- Go to the green messages icon
- Tap on the person that you’d like to share your location with
- Tap on “Details” in the top right-hand corner
- You can choose to send or share your location for a certain period of time from the “Details” section
By sending your location you will send a one-time text message with your current location. By sharing your location with a friend you will allow that person to see where you are and where you are going if you start to move. For example, if you’ve got a first date and you’re planning to go to the movies and then out for a quick bite, you can choose to share your location until the end of the day with a friend and they can check where you are throughout the night.
During the Date
Having decided on a public place to meet and telling a couple of friends or family members of where you’ll be, you’ve covered all your bases so far. If you’re driving to the date try and get to the meeting site a few minutes beforehand and try not to park too close to the location. This extra step will prevent your date from seeing your license plate and car model. In case you get a bad vibe from your date it’s better that they don’t see the car you drive.
Once you’re out on your date it’s important to have fun, but keep a clear head. If you drink it’s smart to put a one or two drink limit on yourself.
After the Date
Once your date ends, it’s time to process how things went. Maybe the date went really well, or maybe you’re already kind of over this person. With apps like SlyDial, you can call someone to break it off and get connected directly to their voicemail avoiding any awkward conversations. If you really didn't like the person there is also Binder app, which will send a not-so-nice text message to a person you never want to see again.
If the person you went out with starts to harass you via phone calls or text they can easily be blocked. You can also use the CallerSmart app to comment if someone is harassing you and find out how to block unwanted callers while on the go. If harassment continues and the person can't seem to take a hint, it's best to contact local authorities.
Finding the Right Dating Site and Staying Safe
It’s important to decide which dating site, or sites, would be best for you to create a profile on. There are hundreds of dating sites and it’s important to do your research in order to pick the one that best fits what you are looking for. No matter what you’re looking for and regardless of circumstances, there is a dating site out there that will work for you.
Online Dating can be a great tool for the busy single parent. In fact, many single parents use online dating because it allows them to meet new singles without sacrificing time with their children.
The dating site PlentyOfFish conducted a survey of single moms using their site. Out of POF’s female users, 44% are single mothers! Single parents can take advantage of dating online to weed out undesirables and find a person that has similar interests to them and is looking for the same type of relationship.
There are certain precautions that single parents may want to take when trying out online dating. This SheKnows article has made a great list of things for the single parent to keep in mind.
The recommendations that we found most helpful were:
- In your profile be honest and state that you’re a single parent, but keep the focus on you, and not your kid(s).
- Avoid having pictures of you and your children in your profile.
- Go with your gut - if you feel like someone is lying to you because there are inconsistencies in what they tell you, stop chatting to them.
If you decide to meet up with someone you’ve met online you can also run a background check. This will let you know if the person has any sort of criminal background.
Many single parents wonder when is a good time to introduce their children to the new person they are dating. eHarmony’s blog proposes three important questions to think about before making introductions:
- Is it a committed relationship that you see long term?
- Have you talked with your partner about meeting your children?
- Are you prepared for your child’s reactions, whether they are good or bad?
Singles over 50 make up roughly 8% of online singles and are just as likely to date online as those in the 18-24 age group. If you are in this age group it’s important to find a dating site that has a large pool of singles and an even male to female ratio.
AARP made a great list of things to consider when trying out online dating in order to make the most of it and also stay safe:
- Ask for a friend’s help when making a profile. They can help you pick out a flattering picture and eliminate any cliches from your profile.
- Be honest about what you are looking for in a partner, but also be open-minded. Don’t make a long list of do’s and don’t’s because no one is perfect. Instead think of things that could be real dealbreakers for you, like smoking or disliking pets.
- Once you’ve decided to meet up with someone rather give them your mobile phone number to make plans - with a landline number a person can find out your home address.
- Take your time and really get to know the person - don’t automatically trust them! With online dating, you meet people outside of your social network so you don’t have any acquaintances that can vouch for them.
The Huff Post ScreenSense blog discusses the issue of online dating and teenagers and warns that it’s not a good idea for teens under 18 years of age to be on dating sites. Creating dating profiles can put teens at risk and make them an easy target for online predators.
Even if your teen isn’t using online dating sites, there’s a pretty good chance that they are meeting strangers online via Instagram or the many other social media channels that they are on. It’s best to have an open conversation with your teen about maintaining online privacy and being safe.
Opening the channels of communication will hopefully prevent your teen from hiding things from you. Things to discuss with your teenager should include:
- The dangers of sharing information, like where you live and go to school.
- The fact that you can’t trust people you meet online when you first meet them.
- How to maintain your online reputation, such as what photos are okay to share and what photos are not.
- If your teenager wants to meet someone that they met online in person, an adult should be present.
Instead of shutting your teenager down and telling them no, it’s best to keep a dialogue going and teach your child about the potential dangers of meeting people online and how to best avoid them.
The Not Alone Report conducted by the White House in 2014 found that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in college. Unfortunately, attitudes and behavior change very slowly. So even though many campuses are putting in place prevention programs to try and change the predominating culture that is around us, it’s important for women to protect themselves.
The New Agenda outlines 10 dating safety tips for young women in college, including:
- Make sure that your cell phone is fully charged before you leave for your date.
- Never leave your drink unattended. If you start to feel any of these symptoms while drinking, stop drinking and call a friend and/or 911.
- Don’t be afraid to say NO and don’t feel pressured to do things that you don’t want to.
- Take a self-defense class.
Many college campuses now offer self-defense classes for women. If your college doesn’t, Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.) Systems is a network of dedicated instructors with programs across the U.S. and internationally. They offer classes for women, children, men, and seniors.
If you have experienced sexual assault, never blame yourself. RAINN the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network can provide help, information, and support if you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault.
The LGBTQ community can be more vulnerable when it comes to meeting new people online. The FBI reported that in 2013, of the 5,922 hate crimes committed 20.8% were based on sexual orientation and another .5% were based on gender identity. These percentages could be even larger as many hate crimes are unreported or not properly documented.
With online dating, there have been occurrences in which individuals have portrayed themselves in a false manner in order to lure in and attack LGBTQ members.
Many dating sites don’t have the option to filter out who sees your profile, so in order to protect yourself, it’s best to be cautious. Among the recommendations that we’ve found most helpful are:
- Avoid giving your phone number out to someone and first connect on Skype. Although Skype chats can sometimes be awkward this is a great way to get a feel for someone.
- If you feel that a person is lying to you, cut things off immediately.
- Most importantly, meet in a public place and avoid secluded areas. If you drive don’t let your date walk you to your car and never share a ride until you know your date better.
- Always tell a friend the details of who, what, when and where.
In addition to these tips, the University of Illinois LGBTQA Resource Office created a great list of things to keep in mind when meeting people online.
The majority of the people you meet online will be like-minded individuals looking for love and companionship just like you. However, remember the best thing about online dating is also the worst thing. You will be meeting people outside of your social circle who could be lying to you about their identity and intentions. By doing simple things like making sure to tell a friend where you’re going and who you’ll be with, you can make sure that you stay safe while having fun and meeting new singles in your area.