Know the Signs: Online Dating Safety and How to Spot a Scam

Online dating is an undeniable part of finding love in the modern world. By the end of 2020, 32 million Americans were participating in online dating services, and the industry is expected to surpass one billion dollars in revenue by 2021. Not only that, but the isolation brought on by COVID-19 has caused a huge spike in online dating—OkCupid saw a 700% increase in dates since last May! But for all the positive aspects of the online dating world, it also comes with some dangerous pitfalls—particularly when it comes to online scammers. 

Many people turn to online dating apps or websites with the intention of meeting someone. But instead of finding romance, it’s unfortunately common for many to become entangled in the lies of a scammer looking to take advantage of them. 

One such scam, known as “catphishing”, can do serious damage both to individual victims and even entire businesses. Catphishing is a form of online deception that involves a scammer using a fake identity to lure victims into a relationship with the goal of exploiting them for financial gain or access to personal data. Unfortunately, the consequences of these scams are often emotionally and financially devastating to the victims—the chances of recovering any money they lost are slim, and the emotional toll can be severe depending on how involved a victim became with a fake love interest. 

While financial gain is the most common motivation for these types of scams, they can also be used as a vehicle for accessing personal information or access to private data they can use to commit crimes like fraud or identity theft. A catphisher may also target their victims with the intent to steal their photos and information, which they turn around and use to create a new fake identity online to help them with future catphishing scams. 

While connecting with strangers online will always come with some level of risk, these facts aren’t meant to instill fear—plenty of people have successfully found love online without the burden of falling victim to a scam. Rather, the purpose is to help you gain awareness of the threats that lurk online and empower you to be able to spot and avoid them. Simply knowing the warning signs can help you spot a catphisher or online scammer before they have the chance to do any harm. Educating yourself on these warning signs matters in the online dating world because it can be tricky to decipher between an innocent, budding online relationship and one that’s masked with the intent to take advantage of you. 

So how can you equip yourself to spot these scammers yourself? Here are the top warning signs you should always look for when engaging with someone in the online dating world:

They’re Overly Charming

Flattery in and of itself is normal, especially when trying to impress a love interest online. But there’s a line between being charming and going overboard, and it’s highly common for a catphisher to give off too much flattery in the hopes of roping you into falling for them. 

A good rule of thumb is to view your online relationships in the same way as your real-life ones. If you were on a first date with someone in person and they tell you they’re madly in love with you halfway through dinner, it would be off-putting. These lines are easily blurred when your communication with someone is online rather than in-person, but always be cautious of excessive flattery that might not come off the same if you were sitting with them in person. 

They Seem Too Perfect

If you’ve been developing a relationship with someone online and everything about them seems too good to be true, there’s a high chance that it is. Catphishers are notorious for making grandiose claims or promises to entice you into falling for them, and they’ll often feed their victims lies about who they are and how much money they make. 

This one can be tough to diagnose, especially if you do some research on them and can’t find anything that doesn’t match the claims they’ve made to you. The most important thing to do here is trust your instincts—if anything they say gives you even the slightest concern that they might be stretching the truth, don’t ignore that feeling. The same goes for their profile photos: if every photo they share looks like it came straight from pages of a magazine, there’s a high probability they might not be who they say they are. 

They Bring Up Sudden Financial Difficulties

If you’ve been nurturing an online relationship for weeks or even months and they bring up a sudden financial hardship they’re dealing with out of the blue, always proceed with caution. Catphishers love to spin tales of all kinds, and if they start divulging details about a bizarre-sounding situation that’s left them in financial trouble, take it as a red flag. 

If you think about it, most people looking for love online usually want to make the best impression possible in the hopes of finding a mate. Barraging you with the details of sudden money troubles is hardly a good way to impress someone, let alone land a date with them. Someone who is looking for an authentic relationship isn’t likely to go out of their way to let you know how broke they are. If an online match starts spilling the details of their dire financial situation (and ultimately, how they could really use some help getting out of it), you can take it as a sign of a potential scammer trying to take advantage of you and your wallet. 

These are just a few of some of the best ways you can be on the lookout for online scammers who don’t have your best interests at heart. These signs aren’t meant to deter you from participating in the online dating scene, but empower you to protect yourself from criminals with ulterior motives that can do serious damage if they’re successful in their plot. To learn more about the warning signs you should be aware of when online dating, this visual provides a deep dive on the topic, and also offers online tools you can use to enhance your safety further

Having a safer online dating experience is absolutely possible—once you’re of the warning signs and the best ways to protect yourself and your data, you’ll be spotting scammers from a mile away.

Sophie writes on behalf of Panda Security covering cybersecurity and online safety best practices for consumers and families. Specifically, she is interested in removing the barriers of complicated cybersecurity topics and teaching data security in a way that is accessible to all.