Thanks to the rise of online dating, Valentines Day has become a mecca for those looking for love, with sites offering regular promotions each year to help their users find the perfect match. Since the first online dating site appeared over 20 years ago, millions have made lasting friendships and relationships and with February 14th just around the corner, theres no better time to start looking.
But beneath the soft underbelly of the online dating community lays a more sinister element. Catfishing and other scams are now regularly reported, and statistics have shown a steady rise in online dating fraud over the last few years. Tricksters arrive in increasing numbers looking to lure innocent hopefuls through cleverly concealed identities, but as with any modern ruse, its not too difficult to stay one step ahead if youre aware of the dangers.
Internet and mobile security expert BullGuard outlines need-to-know tips to steer clear of the scammers. Figures are taken from a recent survey by BullGuard into the habits of 1,500 online daters in the UK.
- Dont be too quick to give out personal information such as a phone number or address. 32 per cent deal out those digits after just three messages, and 40 per cent are happy to say where they live. Overall, 70 per cent regret giving out an address or phone number to a date, so keep that information under wraps until you know a bit more.
- If it seems too good to be true, it often is. Fraudsters rely on enticing victims with elaborate but believable stories and intriguing personal backgrounds, so anything that seems out of the ordinary should be treated with great care. 56 per cent of UK daters have seen a profile that seems too good to be true, yet 49 per cent decided to contact them anyway. A further 50 per cent will continue to chat if something feels a bit off. Stay vigilant, and pay attention to the warnings signs if they are there.
- Check your profile, and your social networks. If youre online dating and use your real name, like 40 per cent of UK daters, remember that someone could potentially look you up online, especially if the privacy settings for social networking sites like Facebook havent secured your profile. In many cases this might just be an innocent attempt to find out more, but in others it can reveal personal information that could be used for purposes such as identity theft or fraud. An online date could then look to fill in the gaps by getting more information from you while you chat in fact 22 per cent have suspected that someone theyre talking to is trying to gather information.
- Remember what online dating scammers are ultimately after your money. Probing financial questions should be another red flag, as should any attempts to borrow money or sob-stories that involve financial hardships. 28 per cent of UK daters have had the impression a date is trying to establish their financial status, a quarter have had to pay for something unexpectedly and 30 per cent have been on a date with someone who has asked to borrow money. No matter how convincing the reasons, this is almost always a sign that someone is being less than genuine.
- Meet and greet. If youve exchanged enough messages with a potential date to believe youd like to meet with them in person, this can be an important next step but do so at a public location such as a coffee shop or caf thats easy to get to. Youll have a far better idea if someone is genuine after meeting face to face, and scammers will often be very reluctant to do so. 41 per cent have chatted to someone who is reluctant to meet in person, and while they could just be shy, its in both parties interests before revealing too much.
- One of the most common dating scams involves people who claim to be based abroad. 11 per cent have chatted to someone based overseas, and while this could obviously be the case, think carefully about whether this is the sort of relationship youre looking for. If the questions start getting a bit too personal, or if the issue of money is brought up, the warnings signs should be clear.
- Finally, stick to reputable websites that charge for membership. These require full contact and payment details, something a potential scammer would be reluctant to give out.