Imagine waking up to a 3 a.m. text from your wealthy and influential partner, saying they’ve been attacked and need to use your credit card to avoid being tracked by the assailants.
You might be skeptical.
But what if you’ve been dating this person for months? You’ve flown in their private jet, been wined and dined, and even met their bodyguard (who now lies bloody on the ground in a photo they’ve sent)?
Pretty soon, your compassion, hope, and desire to preserve the promising relationship override your sense of doubt.
You pony up, and poof: your life savings are gone.
Granted, The Tinder Swindler story represents a more extreme case of online dating fraud. Not every fake profile will fly you to Paris.
But thousands of tiny versions of him have swarmed onto Tinder, Hinge, and the like, scamming even the most vigilant dating hopefuls out of $304 million in 2021 alone, according to the FTC. And considering that’s four times more than in 2016, their fresh methods are clearly working.
So what are the most common dating scams (aka “romance scams”) for under 30s to avoid? What are some general best practices for spotting — and avoiding — scammers?
Let’s investigate online dating scams in 2023.
What are the most common online dating scams to watch out for in 2023?
1. ‘I need money for XYZ’
The classic “I’m a Nigerian Prince” scam from the early days of the internet has made a full-scale comeback in the age of online dating apps.
Here’s how it works: the “love fraudster,” typically pretending to be someone from overseas, will build genuine rapport with you over days, weeks, or even months. Once a connection is established, they’ll surprise you one day with some sort of crisis involving their personal finances:
- “My grandfather passed away and I’ve inherited $230,000, but I can’t afford the attorney’s fees to get it.”
- “I’d love to meet you, but I can’t afford to travel until I pay off my student loans.”
Oftentimes, the scammer will straight up ask you to help pay for their flight. That’s an extremely effective one since it’s hard to say no to someone who’s trying to come to meet you.
But if you send these people money, one of two things will happen:
- They’ll disappear.
- They’ll run into “complications” that require you to contribute more money.
Sadly, no. 2 became more prevalent in the online dating world once scammers realized that anyone who sends money once is likely to do it again. The love fraudsters prey on generosity, hope, and the sunk cost fallacy to squeeze every dime they can out of their victims.
How to avoid it: Don’t ever, ever send money to dating profiles. You can test them by laughing it off and saying “yep, I could use money, too.”
2. Intimate photo blackmail, aka ‘sextortion’
In a scam as old as photos themselves, and even used by governments against world leaders, the nefarious schemer will solicit intimate photos — then ransom them back to you.
Typically they’ll threaten to post them all over social media using an anonymous account, and tag you in them to embarrass you to your friends, family, and employer.
Unless, of course, you pay up.
Naturally, this scam is especially effective against anyone who isn’t supposed to be on any dating apps in the first place…
Anyways, leaking nudes is illegal in 30 states and DC, especially if you have documented evidence that the person was trying to blackmail you.
However, if the other person remains anonymous, there’s little the authorities can do.
How to avoid it: Never send photos to anonymous accounts that you wouldn’t post publicly on social media.
3. The one-way Zoom call
In this scam, the bad guy (or gal) will actually commit to hopping on a Zoom call with you as a first date.
However, when they log in, they’ll say there’s something wrong with their webcam. Oh well, tech issues happen, right?
The date progresses, and although you can’t see them, you can hear them so you start to feel comfortable. Perhaps there’s a follow-up date or two, when they still haven’t fixed their webcam, but you start feeling close enough to this person to begin sharing intimate details, secrets, and more — things you would never share in public.
That’s when the scammer reveals that they’ve been recording you this whole time, and, well, you know how the rest goes.
How to avoid it: Be cautious and distrusting of anyone claiming their “webcam is down.” Simply ask to reschedule for a time when you can see each other.
4. Phishing for personal data — using intimate photos as bait
In a 180 twist on the above blackmail scams, some scammers will offer to send you illicit photos, just as long as you identify yourself first.
After all, they simply want to feel assured that their photos won’t be used against them by a fake account. Therefore, they’ll request key personal data like your legal name, address, cell phone number, a photo of your driver’s license, and maybe more.
As amateur psychologists, the scammers know darn well that it’s hard to say no to this stuff. If you resist, they may apply pressure:
“I’m about to share my nudes with you and you won’t even share your real name?”
Then, when you give in, they’ve now phished enough data out of you to steal your identity, compromise your bank accounts, etc.
How to avoid it: Never share your personal data online unless it’s with sources you 100% trust. The potential for naughty photos isn’t worth the risk of ID theft.
5. Fraudulent code verification texts
This one’s been happening a lot on Tinder lately.
In the least romantic of the romance scams, the fraudsters will send you a phony “Verify Your Account” email which looks official, but contains a link redirecting you to a third-party site.
There, you’ll be asked to submit your personal data, bank data, perhaps even SSN — all under the guise of “protecting your account” when the opposite is happening.
How to avoid it: Gmail does a good job of blocking phishing emails, but if one comes through, update your information on the site directly — not through an email URL.
6. The ‘soldier’ in need
Finally, scams involving fake U.S. service members are becoming so prevalent that the U.S. Army has a whole webpage warning us about them.
“The most common scheme involves criminals, often from other countries — most notably from West African countries — pretending to be U.S. soldiers serving in a combat zone or other overseas location.”
The scammers claim they need money for “service-related needs” like travel costs, long-distance calls, even medical bills, claiming inadequate support from the government. Then, not wanting to feel unsupportive or unpatriotic, the victims wire cash.
How to avoid it: The same logic in no. 1 applies to these “soldiers” — never, ever send money.
What are some general best practices for avoiding scams?
Use reverse Google Image search on suspiciously hot people
Scammers almost never impersonate 7s out of 10s — because why would you, when “dimes” of all genders get more attention?
Therefore, if you match with someone who looks like an extra from “Zoolander,” perform a reverse Google Image search to see if their “photo” is being used in multiple places.
Stay on the app
Scammers will almost always try to transition you to text, email, or social media so that a) you can share mixed media faster and b) a record of your conversation is harder to report to the dating app.
Stick to the app, and if they pout, report them. Even if they weren’t scammers, they likely didn’t have your best interests in mind.
Bail on people who refuse to meet
Scammers will loosely agree to meet in person but always bail at the last minute due to traffic, work, or some other credible excuse.
If someone is resisting meeting in person, it’s time to move on. They’re a scammer at worst, a disorganized flake at best!
Follow your gut if something feels ‘off’
Sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on it, but something feels “off” about the person you’re chatting with. Their English, their response rate, their personal narrative… there’s something alien about it.
That’s likely because scammers often operate as a group, and you might be talking to three or four people who can’t keep their story straight. Trust your gut and run.
Never, ever, ever send money
No first date ever started with:
“Thanks for paying for my flight!”
None. Besides, do you really want to date someone who’s begging for money at the outset?
Partly thanks to Shimon Heyada Hayut, aka the Tinder Swindler, Tinder has started allowing users to perform two free criminal background checks on their matches before going on dates.
That certainly helps, as does remaining vigilant, skeptical, and well-informed. Dating can be an emotional roller coaster, but if the highs start feeling too high, it helps to remember an age-old adage:
If it’s too good to be true…
Featured image: Pla2na/Shutterstock.com