Valentine’s Day is over, but the search for true love continues. While online dating makes this search easier, at the same time, it can be a battlefield – one littered with time-wasters, creeps and scammers. Is there a way online daters can protect themselves? Below, we highlight some common online dating scams, and detail how you can best defend yourself against them.
Types of common online dating scams
Online dating scams can take on many different forms with scammers being motivated by a myriad of reasons. There are a number of scams that online daters should be aware of, like investment fraud, but two that people tend to encounter the most are bots and catfish. There’s overlap among them, but generally they both have unique motives and should be identified and dealt with in slightly different ways.
What are bots?
Bots refer to programs designed to act like human Internet users. The word comes from an abridging of the word “robot.” Bots can do different things depending on what they’re programmed for – they can do everything from buying tickets to ordering takeout online. One of the most common type of bot you’ll encounter on an online dating platform is a “chatbot,” a program designed for conversation, as its name implies.
You might think it’s incredibly easy to tell a Siri apart from a Sally, but this technology has existed since the 1960s and has only improved since then. In fact, under some circumstances, chatbots are good enough to fool even artificial intelligence experts. To make things more difficult, text-based conversations lack the cues real ones do, meaning that the casual environment of the Internet makes it easy for a chatbot’s oddities to go unnoticed. Chatbots likely won’t sweep you off your feet with epic poetry, but nonetheless, they’re good enough at conversation to be a problem for some dating sites and their users. Conversely, some online dating companies have deployed chatbots as a way to entice users into spending money and remaining a member of the site.
How to identify and deal with bots
1. Cut the small talk. Chatbots’ power predominately lies in the realm of casual conversation, so once you’re done exchanging pleasantries and want to test if you’re talking with a bot, get deep. This often means avoiding topics like the weather, movies, vacation destinations and favorite foods. Additionally, you should also avoid answering personal questions right off the bat – attempts to immediately solicit money, your phone number or other contact information are all things bots do. You can also try steering the topic toward meeting in real life, as bots tend to avoid this subject.
2. Initiate the “self-destruct” sequence. Chatbots are designed to process language in a very specific manner, so when humans behave in ways not anticipated by a chatbot’s programmer, it will likely blow its cover with stilted and inhumanly awkward responses. Being clever and playful with language – like using sarcasm, uncommon jokes, riddles and onomatopoeia – are all likely things outside of most chatbots’ programed parameters. Other tests include asking absurd questions with common sense answers, like “How edible is a wooden chair?” as well as asking the chatbot to spell things backwards, typing in semi-nonsense language like “I love asgeftd” or overusing pronouns.
What is a catfish?
Catfish is an Internet slang term referring to accounts filled with fictitious information designed to seduce individuals under false pretenses. Catfish profiles are somewhat like bots in that they deceive, but they are operated by real humans. Worst of all, because catfish can have any number of goals, like causing emotional stress or getting money/gifts from their victim, there is no typical example of a catfish. Still, there is some general advice that you can keep in mind if you think you’re dealing with one.
How to identify and deal with a catfish
1. Do a Google search. When talking to someone online, even if they don’t seem fake, you’ll want to do your homework. That means Googling their name, scouring the person’s social media pages for signs of life and, if you really want to be thorough, using a people search service to research them. Essentially, you want enough information to know that the person you’re talking to is from where they claim to be, and that the basic facts of their life add up. In-depth looks at social media profiles can also tell you more; for example, if the person’s profiles lack a decent number of friends, or if they have an outlandish amount of friends, that might be a red flag. Similarly, social media accounts that are not very active or have a short history might also signal that they exist solely for appearances’ sake.
2. Reverse image search is your best friend. We’ve talked about Google image reverse search several times before, and for good reason, as it can truly help you out if you’re stumped. You can reverse image search a photo to verify that the person isn’t using a stock image or a photo ripped from some random website. While passing the Google reverse image search test doesn’t mean someone is not a scammer, it’s a good start to weed out fraudsters from actual potential dates.
3. Avoid Internet relationships. While some individuals have successfully married their online soulmate despite them living hundreds of miles away, or even halfway around the globe, the general consensus is that if it’s harder for you to meet someone (or you’re desperately looking for someone), it’s easier for them to scam you. The real reason that keeping your romance confined to the computer screen is risky is because the Internet creates the perfect opportunity for misrepresentation, even if both parties have honest intentions. The most ideal online dating scenarios involve you messaging someone briefly, then meeting up in the real world. Catfishers thrive by keeping screens between you and them for as long as possible so that their lies more easily sink in and hook you, which means if you’re talking to someone who refuses to meet after some time of online chatting, you may be getting catfished.
Ways to avoid other online dating scammers
In addition to bots and catfish, identity thieves, hackers and generic con artists all thrive in the online dating scene, and they’ll usually do anything to take your money. As such, you should always keep the following in mind:
1. Avoid people who ask you for money. Requests for money should always set off a red flag. This might come in the form of a bot calling you a cutie while asking for your credit card information to help support “their” online hobbies or an overseas veteran who “suddenly” find themselves in a bind and just need to borrow a little bit of cash. Essentially, if you’re being asked for money when online dating, it’s likely that you’re being scammed and you should cut off communication immediately.
2. Flattery will get you nowhere. Did the person of your dreams give you a super like, virtual flowers and a gushing message praising you just for being you? Excessive flattery, especially before you’ve established a rapport with someone, could be a sign that they’re egging you into acting based on emotion. As such, you should be wary of such approaches.
3. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. At the end of the day, you’re going to have to go with your gut. Scammers frequently use attractive and photogenic images to lure their marks, so if someone with a picture-perfect profile approaches you, it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit skeptical and follow the tips we detailed above to confirm their identity.