Online dating is big business. With the rise of social media and high-speed internet, the world has become a much smaller place than it was when older generations were meeting the loves of their lives. This increased connectivity means that dating options are endless, both in terms of finding your perfect someone, and in terms of socialising in a more casual way. Unfortunately, however, with such advantages come significant disadvantages, and increased connectivity means that fraud options are endless, too.
The rate at which online dating scams are perpetrated has increased during the Coronavirus pandemic, largely because the inability to meet face-to-face, due to Covid restrictions, has provided the ideal cover for fraudsters. For a long time, avoidance of in-person meetings has been a significant warning sign – or ‘red flag’ – for people engaged in online dating. After communicating online, it is the natural progression of the process to arrange an in-person date – preferably in a public place – in order to further test compatibility. This is the case for genuine online daters, but fraudsters wish to keep their ruse going for as long as possible. That means making repeated excuses for not showing up – perhaps being out of town or being unwell.
Under normal circumstances, the arrangement of an in-person date would be a way to test the legitimacy of the person to whom you are talking online. Without that option, online daters have been considerably more vulnerable to fraud and online dating scams. The best protection against the threat of online dating scams, therefore, is to arm yourself with as much information as possible about the methods and motivations of these fraudsters. Fortunately, this is possible because internet dating scams are rarely without precedent. There are broad, clear patterns to these crimes and this increases the chances of being able to spot them, before it is too late.
The types of online dating scam
In the broadest of terms, there are four main types of online dating scam. While subtleties and variations exist, the methods and strategies used are largely similar. This works to your advantage as a potential victim because you can take action to protect yourself.
- Financial fraud
There are lots of different types of fraud, and the internet, specifically, is notorious for identity theft. The most common online dating scam involves financial fraud, however. Fraudsters lure their targets with a fake profile and manipulative, romantic conversation. As the connection builds and the relationship is formed, the fraudster begins to discuss financial issues that they are experiencing, eventually requesting money. These requests are designed to seem completely legitimate – perhaps related to a problem with their home or car, or a family issue of some kind. However, once you send the money, they vanish, never to be heard from again.
Laundering schemes run through online dating accounts work in much the same way as financial fraud attempts. The difference is that, instead of requesting that you hand over your own money, laundering schemes ask you to essentially be the unwitting conduit in a criminal enterprise. Using a fake profile and emotional, romantic manipulation, fraudsters gain the trust of their targets before asking them to receive items on their behalf. It might be a package, or a sum of money. They then ask for those items to be forwarded onto them. Similarly, they may send items to you, for you to forward to other people. There will be excuses for this process that sound legitimate – perhaps they are going to be away and have nobody else to receive a delivery, or there is a problem with their own bank account which means they can’t send or receive money directly. The point is, however, that the items being moved are likely to be stolen or illegal, and you have been lured into committing a crime.
While all online dating scams are heinous actions, those that involve blackmail are particularly insidious. These crimes involve a fraudster wooing you with a fake profile and promises of life-changing romance, to the extent that deep trust is gained. During the course of this remote romance, you will share personal, private information, thinking that the person to whom you are talking is doing the same. You may even be encouraged to share intimate photographs, perhaps thinking that the other person is doing the same. However, in online dating scams, the material that the other person is using is fake, too, and they are collating your conversations and images for the purpose of blackmail. Once they have gathered the material you have shared, they turn on you and threaten to make it public unless you pay them a specific sum of money. Sometimes, they go ahead and publish it, and the money requested is framed a removal fee, although paying it does not ensure that they will erase the information.
When a person poses as another person on the internet for the purposes of deception, it is popularly known as ‘catfishing.’ There can be many different motivations for catfishing, including cyber bullying, theft, blackmail, public shaming, psychological injury, and child exploitation. Clearly, there is an element of catfishing in cases of financial fraud, laundering and blackmail, too, but these generally happen remotely. Catfishing as an overall strategy can lead to people becoming victims of very dangerous and damaging behaviour in face-to-face situations – particularly where child grooming and exploitation is concerned, making this is a serious issue for parents using online dating services.
The impact of online dating scams cannot be underestimated. Where financial fraud occurs, vast sums of money can be taken over time, sometimes amounting to life savings. Where the scam is laundering, the consequences of unwitting participation in criminal enterprise can ruin lives. Where blackmail is suffered, the damage to personal reputation can be incredibly difficult to repair, quite apart from any money that is taken during the process.
But the impact is often much more far-reaching than that. These incidents can have a deeply negative impact on your career and professional relationships. Perhaps even more concerning is the potential for long-lasting damage to emotional and mental health. When you have been ‘fooled’ by a person to the extent that you trust them – becoming excited about what seems to be a promising new romance with someone who understands you deeply – then it can cause deep trauma to discover that this person is actually a fraudster, and that you never knew the real identity of the person with whom you were communicating.
Private Investigation as protection from online dating scams
The purpose of Private Investigation is to uncover the truth, making it the perfect solution to concerns about online dating scams. When you need to confirm the identity of the person you are communicating with on the internet, a professional and qualified Private Investigator can not only get the job done quickly and discreetly, but they can also do so in a way that provides you with evidence that is admissible in court. This ensures that the possibility of prosecution or other legal action can be explored, should the need arise.
While there are many tools in the Private Investigator’s kit, it is primarily the background check that is used in cases concerning online dating and electronic communications. Investigators will examine the profile and communication history of the person in question, searching for indications of deception. This may include the subtlest of inconsistencies in the information they share, and a lack of social media presence elsewhere. They may have begun to express extreme devotion at a very early stage in the communication, becoming accusatory in a manipulative way when questioned. They may also be relatively vague about their own life while asking you to be very specific about yours.
Working on the principle that the task at hand is first and foremost the confirmation of identity, before working to uncover any nefarious plan the person may be conducting, it is then the search and analysis of publicly available records that forms the basis of the investigation. This includes:
- Records of births, deaths, and marriages
- Driving record
- Criminal record
- Property records
The confirmation that the person is not who they claim to be may well be enough to stop them targeting you as a victim if they are a more opportunistic kind of criminal. For organised campaigns, Private Investigators can go further, by deploying electronic surveillance across your personal devices, to try to gather evidence of the fraudster in action, and also to try to narrow down the place from which they are operating.
Online dating is certainly a popular and attractive strategy for socialising, which is why it is essential to have a reputable and accredited Private Investigation firm, like OpSec Solutions, in your corner. The OpSec Solutions team is drawn from military, police and corporate backgrounds, and is fully up-to-date with the latest, cutting-edge advancements in online dating scam strategies, as well as the technology that can be used to prevent or halt it. This means OpSec Solutions can help to keep you safe from fraudsters and predators, leaving you to conduct your dating life in full confidence. Call OpSec Solutions today to find out more about how the team can help prevent online dating scams impacting your life.