Recently, a man in Arizona was sentenced to nearly 16 years in prison for two counts of fraudulent schemes and artifices. The man, Daylon G. Pierce, used dating websites to fool his victims into giving him money. He convinced the women he dated online that he was a stock broker and that he would help them invest their money. However, the money they gave him went to nightclubs and casinos. One woman gave him nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
As Pierce’s story and countless other online dating anecdotes tell us, you can never be sure about the people you meet online. According to FBI data cited by Consumer Reports, “romance scams and similar confidence scams cost consumers more money than any other kind of internet fraud. In 2015, the last year for which data is available, consumers lost more than $200 million this way.”
To protect your money and your privacy, take the following precautions when you’re trying to meet a new love interest online.
Never, Ever Share Personal Information or Send Money
The women Pierce scammed sent money to him without ever meeting him in person. They might have been wowed by his charm or simply desperate to see their money make more money. Whatever their motivation, they didn’t take the time to investigate the situation.
It’s smart to use a service such as Checkthem.com to perform a background check on your online love interest. You might uncover that the person has a criminal history or other skeletons in his or her closet.
Even if a background check comes back clean, though, you still need to keep your guard up. Don’t ever share personal information with someone you haven’t met in person, and don’t send money — no matter what story the other person tells you. This is important because scammers often take the time to craft an elaborate persona to present to their victims. They might write long and detailed letters or send lots of pictures, creating the illusion that the relationship is real. Once they have their hooks in, they’ll make a pitch for money.
Keep it Local
Some dating websites make it easy to connect with other singles from across the globe. However, getting into a long-distance relationship with someone you meet online is dangerous. Most scammers prefer to talk to people who live far away from them. This makes it easier to pull off a scam without being caught. For example, consider an incident that occurred in December 2016: Seven men — one from South Africa and six from Nigeria — were arrested for scamming millions of dollars from Americans. Their weapon of choice? Online dating sites.
While no dating site is entirely safe, you might have more success if you use sites that connect you with locals. For example, Happn uses your phone’s location tracking feature to match you with people whom you’ve been in close physical proximity to lately.
Do an Image Search
It’s easy to do an image search on practically any photo you come across on the internet — including your love interest’s profile picture. You can use Google to do the search or use a different service such as tineye.com. You’ll be able to discover where else on the internet an image has appeared.
A search like this can reveal a lot of information. For example, a picture of a man in a suit and tie might engender trust. However, if you find that image elsewhere on the internet and it has a different name attached to it, there is a good chance someone is trying to scam you.
Be Leary of Bad English
Pierce might have had beautiful speaking skills, but often messages from scammers will be full of poor grammar and misspellings. This is because many scammers aren’t from English-speaking countries.
Poor English doesn’t always mean someone is trying to scam you, but it’s definitely a sign that you need to be cautious about your budding relationship.
Use Paid Dating Sites
Everybody loves freebies — including scammers. If you stick to paid dating sites, you know that everyone you chat with has a credit card on file, which makes them easier to track. This doesn’t mean there aren’t scammers on paid dating sites, but there are definitely fewer of them. Some of the top paid dating sites you might consider include:
- Match.com: While this can cost $30 or more per month, depending on the subscription option, it offers convenient browsing features. Plus, if you don’t find someone within the first six months, the next six months are free.
- Zoosk.com: This is similar to Match, but geared toward younger people. Zoosk offers some free features, but getting full access costs about $10 per month if you subscribe for a full year.
- eHarmony.com: eHarmony is one of the more expensive dating sites, but it asks users tons of questions that make it more likely they’ll find a compatible match. A one-month subscription is about $60. It is only for opposite-sex couples, but a companion site caters to those looking for same-sex relationships.
Get an Objective Opinion
It seems like everyone has a friend who is great at being the voice of reason. If you start an online relationship, keep that friend updated on the situation. He or she can offer you an opinion that isn’t clouded by hopes and dreams of wedding bells. Just promise yourself that you’ll give serious consideration to your friend’s advice. If you know someone who has had a bad experience with online dating, ask about what happened so you can see if there are any similar red flags in your situation.
Internet dating is rife with dangers. If you don’t take steps to protect yourself, you could end up losing money. Even worse, you could get your heart broken by someone who never cared about you in the first place. Be resolved not to become a victim by using the above tips to safeguard your money, your personal information, and your emotional well-being.