This article is one in a series that discusses protecting yourself from scams when dating online.
Online Dating Scams: The 419 Scam
The Romance Scam is often mentioned in relation to the 419 scam (also referred to as the Nigerian scam). The standard 419 scam involves the scammer offering you a large sum of money if you help them move that money out of the country they are currently in. For example, they may want to send you a check for $50,000 and will allow you to keep $10,000 of it if you will cash it for them. They will then create a fake check and send it to you. You deposit the check and then wire them their portion of the money. They will request that you send their share back to them by a wire service such as Western Union because money wires cannot be cancelled. Once the bank realizes that the funds were fraudulently entered all of the funds will be removed from your bank account. You will owe the total amount you deposited to your bank, regardless of how much you wired back to the scammer.
Generally speaking, the 419 scam isn’t specifically related to online dating. So why mention it? Many times perpetrators of the Romance Scam will move from one scam to the other. For example, they may ask you for a small sum of money for a family operation. They offer to repay you ten-fold if you will just lend them the small amount. You send them $1,000 and good to their word, they send you a check for $50,000 and allow you to keep $10,000 of it. You cash the check and wire them their $40,000. A few days later, your bank informs you that you are now in-debt to them for a sum of all $50,000 (plus you’re out the original $1000 you sent).
Spotting the 419 Scam
Are they offering you money for something in return?
Don’t do it. Just as discussed in the Romance Scam, your potential date should neither be asking for nor offering money. The scammer is playing to your desire to believe that something too good to be true really is true. Don’t fall for this! If it feels too good to be true, you instincts are trying to warn you to be careful!
Online Dating Scams: Married Men Looking to Cheat
This one is pretty self-explanatory. A married man is interested in an affair and has decided to use online dating to find it. It’s something of a mystery why men use standard dating sites to cheat when there are many services that cater specifically to cheating (such as Ashley Madison). It would appear that many men like to cheat without revealing they are married.
Spotting the Married Man
Did they Post a Picture?
Someone looking to cheat needs to make sure they don’t get caught and posting a crystal clear picture of themselves on an online dating site is a big risk for them. If a friend of their wife uses the service, which is very real possibility with the popularity of online dating , he’ll be ruined. Many of the married men will not post a picture at all or if they do it will be in a large group or it will be difficult to make him out (the picture may be very dark or very bright).
Do They Hide Strange Details?
Are they unwilling to share their last name with you or are they reluctant to reveal certain details about themselves? Normally with online dating, revealing details about yourself is a part of the process. If you’re talking to a man who is open about some areas of his life but clams up about others, something strange is going on. It may not even be that you’re dealing with married man but it’s not a good sign regardless. Proceed with caution when dealing with anyone who seems selectively secretive.
Do They Have Strict Rules on Communicating?
Once the communication moves beyond the dating service’s email system, are they extremely particular about when and how they communicate? Are they unwilling to give you their phone number even though they have yours? Will they only meet in areas where there are very few people? Again, they may not be married but something odd is going on and you should proceed cautiously.
Married men can be hard to spot and even a man who falls into all the categories above may not be cheating. Regardless of being married or not, someone like this is acting strangely which is cause for extra caution regardless of the reason.
Online Dating Scams: The Email Spam Scam (or The Stolen Credit Card Scam)
This scam is a personal theory based on some activity I saw when I had a credit card stolen. This scam has nothing to do with someone stealing your credit card. Rather, it deals with someone else’s credit card being stolen and that stolen credit card then being used to open an online dating account. When my credit card number was stolen, it was used to open an account at an online dating site. I’m not alone – you can see a full list of people discuss this in the comments of my article on fraudulent charges. The thief in my case used my information for opening the dating account and nothing more. This screams the question: why steal a credit card only to use it for one specific purchase? A relatively small purchase at that. Why not open the account and then go grab some McDonald’s at the very least?
If you think about this, it can be a little disturbing. Why would someone go through all the trouble of stealing a credit card to open dating account? Many sinister ideas come to mind…what does this person plan to do to his date that would require he remain anonymous? Scary. However, I do not believe that this is the real reason behind using a credit card for online dating accounts. What is the main reason, then? My suspicion is this: spam.
The account is opened so the scammer can contact as many people as possible in an attempt to get their personal email account. Once they’ve collected a batch of personal emails, the massive amounts of spam begin. Why do I suspect this is the goal and not something more evil? Most credit card fraud is recognized quickly these days. This means that in most cases the scammer only has a few days to use the account before it is closed due to the fraud being recognized. The account which was opened using my credit card was only open for few days before I contacted the dating service and had it closed. Also, in my case the dating service was willing to give me details on the account that was opened: it was opened as a middle-aged divorced woman. Seems unlikely to be the approach a scammer would take if they were looking to trick someone into meeting them. It seems far more likely that the scammer posed as a single woman and emailed hundreds of men with an email similar to the following:
My account at this site is running out in a few days but if you give me your personal email account I’d love to talk to you some more! Please contact me quickly, I only have a short time left!
Occasionally, you can even see this suspicious activity while simply browsing a site. Not long ago while reviewing a dating service I noticed that there were a few scantily clad women shown as some of my best matches. They stuck out in a big way because the site is geared towards those serious about meeting someone. The profiles, especially when compared to the others around them, were very suspicious. Not long after I noticed that both of the half-naked profiles had been removed. Now I have no idea what actually happened here but it’s within the realm of possibility that these accounts were being used to mass mail all the members of the site to harvest personal email accounts. I realize that it seems like a lot of work just to get emails for spam but I believe it is happening.
Spotting the Email Spam Scam
Are they extremely attractive and extremely interested in you?
There’s nothing to say that beautiful, rich, successful people wouldn’t be interested in you but be aware that when it happens you need to exercise a little extra caution. I realize that this may be unfair to all the beautiful people out there, but I’m sure they will find some way to weather through this discrimination. Beauty is a burden they must learn to bear!
Did they ask for your email quickly?
Don’t give it away when someone asks for it right away. Easy as that. You’re worth the small fee the dating service charges if they are interested in you. If you’re both paying for the service, you can communicate with each other fine. Using your personal email account does make communication easier but this should occur after some period of time, not after the first email they send.
Are they new to the service?
Most dating services flag members as being new. This is mainly to help current members recognize the new possibilities in the dating service membership. However, this flag provides you with some information that allows you to exercise extra caution. Someone that is both new to the service and also wants your personal email address is a major suspect. If you find yourself convinced that this beautiful person really does desperately want to talk to you via your personal email, give this try: wait one week. In most cases, I suspect you’ll see the profile disappear before that week is out.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where people are always looking for new ways to take advantage of each other. These are the scams that I’m aware of but don’t view this as an exhaustive list. Always exercise caution when things don’t feel right (or when money is introduced, regardless of the reason). Online dating is a great way to meet people but, just as in the real-world, you need to take precautions to keep yourself safe.
Learn More About Online Dating Scams and How to Better Protect Yourself
- Online Dating Scams: The Romance Scam is a discussion of the primary scam occurring on online dating sites today.
- Tools For Identifying Online Dating Scams and Liars offers steps you can take to try and verify that the person you are talking to really is who they say they are.
- 419 Eater is a community site that dedicates itself to making the scammers lives as difficult as possible. There are some great stories here that describe the great lengths they are able to get the scammers to go through without ever getting a dime.
- Advance-fee fraud is discussed in great detail at Wikipedia. This article covers both the Romance Scan and 419 Scam as well as many others.