The ‘Catfish’ And Other Heartless Scams
Meeting new people is difficult for many adults. After college and the first few weeks on a new job, the number of people you’ll encounter as a part of your everyday life starts to drop off pretty dramatically. If you’re looking for more than just friendship, it gets even more challenging. Finding other people who are also looking for a relationship involves so much innuendo and hidden meanings; the single life sometimes doesn’t seem like a bad way to live.
Fortunately, though, there’s the Internet. Dating sites like eHarmony and Match.com make it easier than ever to find other people who are looking for the same thing you seek. With advanced search features, you can focus on people who share your values, your sense of humor and even your astrological sign. If you’re clear about what you’re looking for, they might even find you!
Unfortunately, that same ease of connection makes online dating sites a haven for scammers. Using the information you provide, they can craft a profile designed to win your trust. Once they’ve got you, they can string you along for months, damaging your pride and perhaps robbing you blind!
There are many safe and happy relationships that began on dating sites, so this is by no means an indictment of them. If you’re going to use them, though, you would be wise to practice a few precautions. Watch out for any of the following red flags that could signal a dead-end relationship.
1.) Walk away from wire transfers
The greatest warning light in the world is a request to send money insecurely. There are dozens of reasons why scammers might ask for a wire transfer, account details or other financially sensitive information. Maybe they claim to have a sick relative who is desperate for medical attention or they want to come and see you, but can’t afford a ticket.
Whatever the sob story, it will have three key elements. One, it will be couched in terms of love or relationship advancement. Your new squeeze may make a sudden confession of love first, or pressure you by saying you need to prove your love. Two, there will be a specific reason why the money must be transferred using an insecure method, like Western Union. The scammer may not have a checking account, or may not have time to wait for a check to clear. Third, there will be a significant urgency. You will have to decide right then whether or not to help, and not helping will be the end of your budding romance.
Whenever someone you don’t know offline asks for money via wire transfer, run away. No one with good intentions will want the anonymity and immediacy of a money transfer. Being generous in a new relationship is one thing, but it’s possible through many other means.
2.) Keep pictures close to your heart
Digital technology has made it easier than ever to share pictures with people all over the world. This is wonderful for sharing your vacation with friends from school or showing off your child’s art to proud grandparents. It’s also enabled some new romantic norms. Many people in long-distance relationships use the Internet to enable their intimacy in healthy ways.
As much as this use of technology has been a boon to new couples, it’s exposed many to new dangers as well. Risqué pictures or messages can be used as blackmail material. Scammers may threaten to make your private messages public unless you pay them or give them personally identifiable information. Sadly, the law is not on your side in situations like this. It’s not illegal for people to make public the correspondence you sent voluntarily.
The best advice is to avoid sending explicit material to anyone you have any reason to distrust. Also, don’t pay so-called image removal fees. The FBI reports there’s no evidence to confirm that scammers actually do remove information after they’ve been paid to do so.
3.) Don’t get strung along
In the rush of a new relationship, it’s easy to let all other considerations fall to the wayside. Especially if online dating is a way to get back in the dating game after a long hiatus, the thrill and giddiness of a connection with someone new can have an almost drug-like effect. In fact, like a drug, some disreputable dating sites use that thrill to keep you coming back!
Many sites offer a free trial before requiring members to pay for a costly subscription. Unscrupulous companies will have employees pose as potential matches and send messages to customers who are nearing the end of that free trial period. These messages will hint at possible romance, but move just slowly enough that the customer must pay the subscription fee to continue receiving them. Once the money’s been paid, the messages stop. Other companies create fake profiles to artificially inflate the number of “available” matches near you.
The best advice for dealing with situations like this is to be proactive. Keep dialogues going with people you may be interested in talking to and find another way to communicate with them. Consider creating a dating site-only email address that contains very little information about you (other than your first name) and providing that to potential matches if your subscription is about to expire.
Dating sites are like any other place on the Internet. They can do a great deal of good, but you’ll want to be careful about how you use them.