Summer’s here (allegedly). Those looking for sun, sex and Sangria flock to the shores of the Costas. Those with less money or more inhibitions might turn to the new matchmaker of choice – the internet.
Twenty years ago, those looking for love might have taken up a new hobby, joined a club, or scoured the private ads in the back of a newspaper. Today, things are very different.
Dating has had a 21st century makeover. Like the look of James, 32, from Birmingham? Just swipe right. Fancy getting to know Louise, 50, a dog lover from Kent? Just click to send her a message. As in so many other areas, technology has revolutionised the dating scene. It has opened up a world of possibilities. We can browse potential partners as quickly and easily as we can browse a new pair of shoes in an online store.
Internet dating sites are growing at an exponential rate. There are sites tailored to your sexuality, religion, hobbies, age, location, weight, hair colour, political beliefs…the list is endless. Never before has there been so much choice at the click of a mouse.
But this Brave New World of Dating is not without its perils.
Online dating scams are well-publicised, and can make for sensational tabloid headlines. As private investigators, our services are often called on to help those who find themselves duped by online fraudsters. We’ve probably all read about the middle-aged widow who was conned out of her life savings by an unscrupulous lethario claiming he needed funds to pay for urgent medical treatment for a sick relative; or the unsuspecting divorced dad who ended up sending thousands of pounds to a young woman he met online so that she could travel from Canada to finally meet him. Except she never turned up and he was left broke as well as broken-hearted.
And we’ve probably all raised our eyes to heaven and tutted. How stupid do you have to be to fall for a con like that?
The answer is, not stupid at all.
Those behind internet dating scams are clever. Very clever. So clever in fact, that clever people can be taken in by them. You do not have to be stupid to be the victim of a scam.
These scams are often part of a well-organised industry. You may think you are talking to Jenny, a 32 year old divorced accountant from Shropshire, but the reality could be that you are talking to a team of men and women working out of an office in Kuala Lumpur or Lagos or Singapore or … anywhere other than Shropshire.They may well have spent weeks or even months getting to know you and gaining your confidence. And because they are often targeting hundreds of victims at the same time, they can afford to play the long game. Sooner or later one of their targets will fall victim to their demands.
The scenarios used in each scam will differ, as they are usually tailored to the victim’s specific interests and designed to appeal to their unique situation. But there are common traits in most of them and a typical online dating scam may go something like this:
- The profile picture
A picture of a reasonably attractive man (or woman). Not too glamorous, but pleasant and approachable. Often the person may be photographed holding a dog or a cat.
- The background story
Divorced or widowed. Wife (or husband) may have been killed in an accident several years previously. Often has a child whom they adore but who does not live with them. They may tell you that this is the first time they have tried online dating and that they are nervous. Will often work away, perhaps in the oil business or may be in the military. Will tell you about their family, hobbies, work, in a fair amount of detail.
- The approach
Will tell you they loved the look of your profile picture. Thought you looked genuine and they would like to get to know you better. They would love it if you get it touch. They will tell you they want to meet someone genuine who is looking for love and a long-term relationship
- The contact
After the initial approach, they will often suggest communicating via personal email away from the dating site quite quickly. They may give you a mobile number to text them on and eventually you will talk on the phone.They will usually declare love in an unfeasibly short space of time. But by this time you will probably be starting to feel the same way. They will have sent you one or two additional photos, as will you. And you will have been complimented many times on your looks and on your personality. In short, you will have found your ideal match.
- The move
After a few weeks, your new love may suddenly be seconded to a project in Canada or Australia or somewhere equally far away, for several months; or they may simply have to travel abroad for a couple of weeks on business. Whilst there, their passport may get stolen. Or their baggage. They may break their expensive laptop. Or they may get mugged and have their wallet stolen. They may receive an urgent phone call about their teenage son back home who has suddenly been rushed to hospital with a life-threatening illness. Or it may be that they have finally decided the time is right to come and see you. But they can’t afford the air fare. Whatever has befallen your unlucky new lover, one thing is certain. You will be asked to send them some money to help them out of their dreadful fate.
- The conclusion
You may by this stage be so enamoured with Jenny from Shropshire or John from Barnsley, that you are desperate to help. You may at first just send a couple of hundred pounds. But then another disaster will befall your accident prone hearthrob, and only a few thousand will help solve the latest problem. And so it goes on. And all the while, the promise of that elusive meeting will still be hanging in the air, and you will be rewarded handsomely with expressions of love, heartfelt words of thanks, and promises to pay back every penny when they get to finally see you in the flesh.
Except of course you will never get to meet your internet lover. Because he does not exist.
This is the most horrible kind of fraud. Because the perpetrators prey on people’s compassion, vulnerability and good intentions. Victims of these scams lose money, but they lose so much more. They lose their hearts to these people. The realisation that the person you have grown to love – and it is a very real love for the victims – does not exist, is devastating. And for the victim, it is often too horrendous to even contemplate reporting these kind of crimes. They feel embarrassed, humiliated, stupid. It takes great strength of character to be able to overcome those feelings and report frauds such as this.
So what can you do to protect yourself if you are contemplating entering the online dating world?
Here are our top ten tips:
- do not agree to talk off site via private email too quickly.
- do not give personal information too soon. Be especially wary of giving out your address and mobile number.
- if you talk to someone and like the look of them, arrange to meet them in person fairly quickly, in a public place. If they don’t turn up, be wary.
- if you do not want to meet in person so soon, suggest Skype or Video chat. If they don’t agree or make an excuse, be suspicious.
- be aware that a photograph can be stolen. You can do a reverse search on google to look for duplicates of the photo elsewhere on the net.
- enter some of their profile phrases into google. Do they appear on other sites under a different profile?
- be suspicious of anyone who declares they love you after only a couple of weeks.
- never send money, however awful your lover’s plight might seem to be. If they claim to be stuck abroad, suggest they contact the embassy or another relative.
- be wary of anyone asking you to send money via Western Union.
- never give out your bank account details.