So you're ready to dip your toes in the online dating world and find yourself a new friend, companion or romantic partner. Online dating is exploding among baby boomers and with good reason - it's fun and it works!
However, somewhere in that big sea of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes, lurk some nasty sharks, looking to prey on unsuspecting and well intentioned people like yourself.
According to the FBI, last year alone some 15,000 people lost over $210 million in Romance scams. Scammers use your social media profiles to establish a relationship quickly. They claim they can't meet in person because they're working abroad (in the construction or engineering industries). They can build your trust over weeks or months, before making their move. Once they feel they have your trust, they request money for an unexpected medical emergency or legal fee.
Here are a few tips to help protect yourself from online dating scammers.
1. Verify profile pictures
See if the person you're talking with is using a duplicate photo of him or herself. Many senior dating sites have software that detects fraudulent profiles and duplicate pictures. Regardless, they're not perfect. Do some research yourself.
One quick and free way to do it yourself is through a Google Reverse Image search. Go to images.google.com/ and click the image button. Then past or upload the photo into the image search box. You can also add a Google Image extension to your web browser and do a reverse image search directly from the extension.
2. Verify their story
Go slow and ask questions. Take a look at their social profiles on facebook and LinkedIn. Google their name. Make sure their story matches their profile regarding where they live, what they do for work, family status, vacations, pictures, etc...
3. Beware of the "perfect" catch
Scammers know how to manipulate our sympathies. Watch out for sympathetic profiles like the war veteran or widow - designed to capture your trust and/or sympathy.
4. Beware of Long Distance and Overseas Relationships
Long distance relationships do happen, but if you're actually looking for an offline relationship, the long distance online relationship is unlikely to turn into a real life local one. Scammers love to intimate that they are not available to meet because they live or work abroad. Rarely do online scammers want to show their real identity.
5. Beware of the Sob Story
Don't fall for the sympathetic story like they're dying to see, but they need a loan to buy a plane ticket or money to get a travel visa. Again, be wary of any long distance relationship. Chances are they won't work anyways, even if real.
6. Beware of the "online only" person
If someone always promises to meet in person but repeatedly cancels, that's a red flag. Give a final chance and move on.
4. Never Give Money
No matter the circumstance it's odd for someone you recently met to ask you for money. They may not do it right away. In fact, some wait for weeks or months after developing an intense relationship with you to ask for money. Most of the time there's a reason it has to be given right away, like a medical emergency or legal issue - and of course you're the only solution.
5. Never Take Money
That's right, online fraudsters would be more than happy to give you money, but there's a catch, you have to give them your name and bank account number so they can transfer the funds to you. Easy way to clean you out.
6. Keep Identifiable Information Private
Do not use your real name as your username. Never add you name, email, phone number, address, employer or volunteer organization in any of your online dating profiles. Use a unique picture for your online dating profiles, so the fraudster can't do a reverse image and associate your picture with your Facebook or LinkedIn profile pic.
7. Avoid Threats of Blackmail
Some scammers will simply threaten you with blackmail if you don't give them money in return for not showing pictures, videos or even messages of yours online. So remember, if you share a sexual picture of yourself, make sure there is nothing identifiable about it i.e. face or tattoos, same with live video which can be recorded.
You don't have to be naive, ignorant, or stupid to fall for an online romance scam. These scammers and fraudsters can be very good at what they do. Tens of thousands of smart and successful people have gotten fooled just like everyone else.
We want you to approach online dating with enthusiasm, but also with a healthy dose of skepticism. A few simple rules can keep you safe from online scammers. First, never share personally identifiable information before you meet in person, in a public place of course. Second, never send money, ever. Third, never receive money, ever. Fourth, do a little sleuthing yourself and make sure their story matches their online footprint and there are no red flags.
Have fun and stay safe!