Online Dating Scams: How to Stay Safe With Online Dating

Katie
Katie Aug 13

Over the past decade, online dating has become very popular in the United States. In a recent survey, 1-in-3 Americans say they use one or more dating sites and apps, such as Match.com, OkCupid, eHarmony, Tinder, 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.Online dating

However, online dating’s major draw is also its biggest flaw: you don’t know the true identity of the person on the other side of the conversation. Romance scams are among the most common form of internet fraud with the most losses reported. In 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported a loss of over $33 million. In the past five years, the number has skyrocketed to a jaw-dropping $201 million lost to online dating scams. It’s not only internet fraud that you need to think about, but there is also the chance of physical harm. Dating app crime is a very real thing.

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.

Online Dating Statistics

Reported statistics have changed dramatically in the past five years. The following shows a snapshot of the people using online dating sites.

  • 32% of men reported using dating sites while 28% of women have used the sites or apps.
  • There is no reportable difference among races.

Percentages of people that have used online dating sites:

  • 48% of adults 18 to 29 years-old
  • 38% of adults ages 30 to 49
  • 16% of adults 50 and older
  • 28% of adults identifying as heterosexual
  • 55% of adults identifying lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB)
  • 54% of Americans believe that developing online relationships is just as successful as face-to-face introductions, 38% believe the relationships are less successful, and 5% state the relationships are more successful than ones started “in real life” (IRL).

Getting Started

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 separate new contacts 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. In the About section, focus on talking about your interests, what you’re looking for, and what makes you special. To learn what to write in your profile, refer to How to Write an Online Dating Profile: Tips from a Professional Profile Writer.

Initial Contact

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 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 or other reverse image search site. 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 the person may be hiding his true identity.

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:

  1. 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...”
  2. Save the photo to your desktop
  3. Go to images.google.com
  4. Click and drag  the photo that is saved to your desktop to the search bar on Google Images
  5. 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 photos of other real people to create fake profiles.

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 women can also be targets. 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. Warning signs 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) on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.

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 plan to meet. (Don’t forget to give touch base after the date to say you are safe and sound.)

If you have an iPhone you can also let your friends know where you are by sharing your location via text:

  1. Go to the green messages icon.
  2. Tap on the person that you’d like to share your location with.
  3. Tap on “Details” in the top right-hand corner.
  4. You can choose to send or share your location for a certain 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 the person you went out with starts to harass you via phone calls or text you can easily block phone numbers. You can also use a community caller ID 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.

Overview:

Single Parents

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.

There are so many dating sites that single parents can use. Meetup.com, though not exclusively a dating site, can be a great tool for single parents, and those who are recently separated or divorced, to meet other local singles with similar interests. 

If your a single parent creating an online dating profile, it's important to keep the following things in mind:

  • 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. These are the three important questions to think about before making any 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?

Over 50

People over 50 make up roughly 16% 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 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 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 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 a stranger! With online dating, you meet people outside of your social network so you don’t have any acquaintances that can vouch for them.

Teenagers

VeryWell Family blog discusses the issue of online dating and the pros and cons of allowing teens to use online dating. 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.

College Students

Non-consensual sexual contact remains an issue on college campuses. However, at the same time knowledge about sexual assault is on the rise amongst college students.

College students using online dating sites to meet new singles should keep the following things in mind:

  • 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.

LGBTQ

The LGBTQ community can be more vulnerable when it comes to meeting new people online. The FBI reported that in 2018, law enforcement agencies reported 1,404 hate crime offenses based on sexual-orientation bias.

  • 59.8% were classified as anti-gay (male) bias.
  • 25.1% were prompted by an anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (mixed group) bias.
  • 12.2% were classified as anti-lesbian bias.
  • 1.5% were classified as anti-bisexual bias.
  • 1.4% were the result of an anti-heterosexual bias.

The percentages could be larger as many hate crimes are unreported or not properly documented.

With online dating, there have been occurrences in which individuals have lied to lure and attack LGBTQ members. Many dating sites don’t have the option to filter out who sees your profile, so 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.

Final Thoughts

Online dating allows people to meet others with similar backgrounds, goals, and interests. Sadly, romance scammers abound, making it difficult for those interested in finding a real, true relationship. Online daters should enjoy the excitement of meeting someone new while being aware of the dangers. Scam artists make promises they will never keep to commit identity theft or steal money from their victims. Never give out personal information such as bank account or credit card numbers. Don’t buy gift cards or send money through a wire transfer. If someone acts suspiciously, cut off communication, and move onto the next person who will, hopefully, be the real deal.