Recently, a byline appeared on my newsfeed: ‘Military guy’ steals widow’s heart and nearly $500,000. What followed was the sad testament of an online dating scam that cost a lonely widow her life savings. The scammer claimed to be an Army major and had the sexy Department of the Army photo to prove it. Claiming to be a widower himself, the ‘major’ avowed his never-dying love to the grieving widow.
“I was very taken by him and didn’t question his sincerity,” she said. According to ABC News, after emailing for a month, the first hints of a scam surfaced.
The major requested that his new found love send him $800, claiming his accounts were frozen due to fraud. What followed was a string of monetary requests that drained the woman of nearly $500,000.
Although this may seem like an extreme example, scammers have stolen millions of dollars since the advent of online dating. Romance scams.com, a support site for victims of dating scams, has over 17,000 members with a combined estimated loss of over $14 million.
The loss is expected to be far greater, however, as dating scams are one of the most underreported crimes since many victims are embarrassed about being duped out of money for the sake of love.
The U.S. Census Bureau, Online dating safety tips.com, and good ol’ Dr. Phil, of TV fame, offer some great tips to guard your dating profile, your bank account and your ego from these scam artists.
To begin with, there are some things you just shouldn’t tell the whole world, like your name, date of birth and any bank account information.
When designing the initial profile, always create a separate email account for your online dating activity. This decreases both spam messages and the potential of being scammed via email.
Do not list a phone number unless the site requires one, and then make sure the information is hidden. Otherwise, you might find your phone flooded constantly by bogus text messages.
When chatting or e-mailing, never, ever give more than a first name, and keep it that way at least until you meet the person face-to-face. Sharing your name on a public site sets you up as an easy target for scams, identity theft and other online fraud.
Your username is also an important aspect to the profile. As I mentioned in my first article, Jailbird133 probably won’t work for most girls out there, even if it’s only a joke. Using a derivative of your real name is also a no-no, and never include racial, gender, or physical slurs in your byline. “I only date straight women under 130” might be true, but it’s a great way to get your account flagged. So when choosing a username, be aware of any loaded meanings it may have.
While many online daters want to create an interesting profile, it’s very easy to get carried away with the details. I saw more than one account that revealed the unit, rank and location of its creator. Wearing a dress uniform might look dashing and debonair, but don’t forget that there’s a unit citation and name tape on that jacket. (And while I’m thinking about it: if you’re a private, and you post a picture of yourself in ACU’s while claiming your salary is $60,000, know that your salary is public knowledge on Google, and it’s not 60K).
To be legitimate, an online dating profile should be interesting, but not interesting enough for potential fraudsters to get detailed information about you. Never reveal details like where you work, or even what your favorite restaurant is, as stalkers or scammers could potentially use this information.
As with any online account, a good password is essential. This is one of the most understated requirements of a dating profile. I could have used abc123 as my account password on Plenty of Fish.com, and no one would have batted an eye. But if your account is hijacked, not only are you at risk for identity theft, but you can put your contacts at risk as well.
When scammers access a person’s online dating account, they can easily take advantage of their friends by pretending to be the account holder.
For example, a scammer could log into your account and get in touch with someone you’ve been interacting with to scam them for money.
This could easily happen, especially if you’ve gone to the trouble of creating a legitimate profile and have gone on a few dates with this person. The scammer might tell your contact that there was an emergency, and claim that you need money. Your friend might not recognize the scammer, and in their attempt to help you, they are left high and dry, and you’re to blame.
Finally, when chatting online with a potential date, always keep your identity secret and never divulge any personal information. It’s best to use the dating site’s chat and messenger services, as you don’t have to use your personal messenger details in the process.
Now that you’ve created a relatively safe profile, it’s time to start screening your potential contacts to see if they’re all they say and look to be.
(Editor’s note: this is the second part of a four-part series on the dangers of online dating. Read “Lackluster lies: spotting a potential scammer” in next week’s issue.)