How to protect yourself from romance scams and dating fraudsters

UK Finance reported a 74% increase in online dating scams since 2019 (Picture: Getty/fStop)

From the Tinder Swindler on Netflix, to the Sweet Bobby podcast, to the iconic MTV show Catfish, popular culture loves stories about romantic scams.

People being manipulated wit false promises, fake identities, and phony declarations of love, in order to get them to hand over money or personal details.

Part of the reason we love these stories so much is because we like to imagine it could never happen to us.

We watch the victims being lead into deception confident that we would never be so foolish. But these kinds of scams are much more common that you might realise. And when it comes to matters of the heart, we are all vulnerable.

Valentine’s Day and dating apps are becoming a prime target for fraudsters, with UK Finance reported a 74% increase in online dating scams since 2019, and with apps like Tinder, Hitch and Bumble accessible to all, romance scams have become an easy target.

‘Despite how tech savvy we’ve all become, many of us are not just falling in love, but falling victim to romance and dating scams,’ says Vonny Gamot, head of EMEA consumer business at McAfee.

‘Netflix’s The Tinder Swindler showed us how easy romance scams have become, and with a 74% increase in dating scams since 2019, it’s become a key area for scammers. But there are ways to avoid the emotional traps.’ 

Never send money or gifts to someone you haven’t met in-person

Silhouette couple kissing on separate smart phone screensDo they never turn their camera on? (Picture: Getty/fStop)

This might see obvious, but when someone has got in your head it can be easy to fall into the trap – particularly if they say they need help.

Vonny says you should be particularly on alert if someone sends you money first, and then asks you to send more back to them. They may do this to try to gain your trust.

‘A scammer’s end goal is to make money, and the best way to overcome their emotional manipulation is to make a habit of never sending money to strangers,’ says Vonny.

Talk to someone you trust

Falling in love can be a wonderful experience, but to avoid scammers, Vonny says you should always talk to someone about your new love interest.

‘An outside perspective can often prove to be the most valuable,’ she explains.

So, before diving in too deep, sound it out with your close friends and family for their thoughts on this new person in your life. They might spot red flags that you don’t.

Don’t rush in

We know that whirlwind love exists and that it can be amazing, but be wary of a relationship that seems to be progressing at an incredibly rapid rate.

‘Scammers often work to con multiple people at once, which opens them up to mixing up their details,’ says Vonny. ‘So, make sure to take the relationship slow.’

Do your research

If you have your doubts about someone you’re speaking to don’t be afraid to get technical with your research.

‘You can try a reverse-image search of any profile photographs the person uses,’ suggests Vonny.

A reverse image search allows you to take an image and find where it was originally published, other pages that have published the same image, different sizes of the same image used, and similar images.

‘In a bid to avoid accountability, most scammers won’t use their real photos, and a reverse-image research is an easy way to detect scams,’ Vonny adds.

Here’s how you do a reverse image search on Google Chrome:

  • Locate the image you want to search on the page where you originally found it.
  • Right-click on the image.
  • Select ‘Search Google for image’.
  • Google will then display the results of your search.

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Vonny adds that you should be aware if your prospective lover is reluctant to show their face. He says scammers often want to avoid video calls and that this can be a ‘clear alarm’.

‘Keeping all this in mind,’ she adds, ‘this Valentine’s Day – go ahead and fall in love, don’t fall for a hacker.’

How to avoid losing money to a romance scammer

Never send money or gifts to a lover you haven’t met in person.

If you suspect a romance scam:

  • Stop communicating with the person.
  • Talk to someone you trust, and pay attention if your friends or family say they’re concerned about your new love interest.
  • Do a search for the type of job the person has to see if other people have heard similar stories. For example, you could do a search for “oil rig scammer”. You can also browse the comments on our blog posts about romance scams to hear other people’s stories:
    • Faking it – scammers’ tricks to steal your heart and money
    • Has an online love interest asked you for money?
    • Romance scams will cost you

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