Unfortunately, people with ill intent come with the online dating territory. Yes, you will very likely encounter fakes, phonies, and scumbags who are out to take advantage of you. Did you watch Dirty John on Bravo? Yikes! That was a master class in how online dating can go horribly wrong, and sadly a true story. So yes, bad stuff can happen in the online dating world.
In seventeen months of online dating, I’ve encountered several fakes. Every online dater has, I’d guess. While this is not a pleasant situation to find yourself in, you can beat them at their own game. I’ve identified several red flags that might help you recognize these ne’er do wells and stop them in their tracks.
Online dating scammers will often:
- Have a very sketchy profile, with entire sections left blank or with one or two word answers. If your dating site has questions or tests to more accurately match you with potential dates, scammers will rarely complete these. A real person will put some effort into their profile.
- Have just one photo on their profile. Often this photo will look a little too perfect (more on photos later).
- Tell you they aren’t on the dating site very often and then ask for your email address so you can communicate outside the dating site. They usually won’t ask for your phone number because they don’t really want to talk to you—they want to sweet talk you with written words, and that is best done with email. And they know that it’s only a matter of time until the dating site finds them out and kicks them off, but if they have your email address, they’re golden.
- Claim to live in your area but they’re out of the country right now.
- List “widowed” as their marital status. If not widowed, then they will have a sob story about how their last relationship ended, usually involving infidelity, abuse, mental illness, or something else equally dramatic.
- Say they have a master’s degree or PhD because they want to impress you, and an advanced degree sounds more impressive than an undergraduate degree.
- Use a certain key phrase in their messages. I don’t know how to explain this one, exactly, but every single fake person I’ve encountered has used this phrase when they respond to my message: “It’s nice to read from you.” The phrase most of us use is, “It’s nice to hear from you,” so “It’s nice to read from you” has become a red flag for me. It just sounds…odd.
- Pay you effusive compliments and talk about how special you are compared to the other people they’ve communicated with.
- Often they’ll use endearments very early on, calling you “baby,” “honey,” or “sweetheart.” Maybe it’s just me, but I reserve these tender words for someone I know pretty well, so this one always makes me suspicious.
- Claim to be “falling in love” with you after three or four messages.
- Ask very little about you and your life—even when you invite them to.
- Say little or nothing about where they supposedly live. Often they will claim to live in your city but they never talk about anything local. They ignore questions you ask about their neighborhood, favorite restaurants, places they enjoy visiting, etc.
- Give inconsistent details about themselves. For example, the worst fake I’ve encountered told me he was a Libra but when I asked his birthday he said September 1. Astrology is one of my many interests and September 1 is Virgo, not Libra. This same person was an only child in one message, but somehow gained a brother in a subsequent message.
- Use irregular spelling and grammar (known colloquially as “scammer grammar”).
- Ask for money. They’ll work up to this one, waiting until they’ve had adequate time to ply you with compliments, adulation, and sweet nothings. Once they think they have you in their trap, then they’ll ask. Usually they’ll tell you a convoluted tale of woe (a common one is that they’re in another country and their passport and all their money was stolen) and that they desperately need money (your money) to solve the crisis.
What you can do:
- Most importantly, listen to your gut. That niggling feeling you get when you read their messages is telling you something.
- Carefully scan their profile for inconsistencies, odd language, and other red flags as I talked about above.
- Check out the supposed “details” they give you, such as where they work. The worst scammer I’ve encountered claimed to own a multi-million dollar construction company and he actually created an entire website to support his deception. I looked at the website and noticed right away that it was created with Wix. What large corporation creates their website with Wix? That was a huge warning to me that I was dealing with a fake.
- Pay special attention to their profile picture. Does it look a little too perfect? It may be a stock photo, and that’s a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with someone less than honest. Use a reverse image searching service such as Google, or TinEye. These services allow you to upload a photo and search for matches on the internet. That’s how I finally caught the aforementioned scammer. This is an amazing resource to have in your back pocket!
- Do not give out your email address. Tell them you prefer communicating through the dating site—and then stand your ground. That said, it’s very easy to create an email address that you use only for online dating. You can even change your name in the settings of most email programs so you aren’t disclosing your real last name. I’m not encouraging you to give out an email address—I’m just saying that if you must give one out, there are safer ways to go about it. Do not under any circumstances give out your real email address or divulge your last name.
- If the person you’re communicating with asks you for money…RUN! Never ever ever send money to someone you’ve never met. Ever.
All this said, please take heart! The majority of people on dating sites are real. Most sources I found say that ten percent of dating profiles are fake, which means that ninety percent are real—and that’s a pretty high number. But please take care, especially if the person you’re communicating with seems too good to be true, because they probably are. And always remember that until you’ve met someone in person, they are a complete stranger.
Stay safe out there!
Photo courtesy of Elena Zidkova | Dreamstime.com