Online dating has become so common that it’s easy to forget how dangerous it can be. As more singles sign up for dating sites like Christian Mingle, Match.com, OK Cupid and SeniorPeopleMeet, the more these sites attract scammers.
Online romance scams can take a variety of forms, but they always end the same: broken hearts and broken bank accounts.
A study released last week shows that women over the age of 50 are the biggest targets for scams and fraud schemes perpetuated through online dating sites. By examining these statistics and spreading the word about online dating scams, we can protect ourselves and the older single ladies in our life.
Internet Fraud Is on The Rise
Anyone who’s seen the movie Catfish or simply spent enough time on the Internet knows how easy it is for a user to pretend to be somebody else online. Sometimes, these false personae are weird yet harmless — other times, they’re downright criminal.
Whether they’re impersonating the deposed King of Nigeria or the FBI Cyber Crimes division, fraudsters are very fond of fake online identities.
Just last week, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (or IC3) released a pretty alarming set of statistics. Covering Internet crime during the year 2012 in general, IC3 noticed an increase of about 8.3%.
As NBC News elaborates:
“‘[C]riminals are increasingly migrating their fraudulent activities from the physical world to the Internet,’ said Richard McFeely, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Cyber, Response and Services Branch.”
In the report, some of the most upsetting information detailed the increasingly-popular activity of online dating.
Unfortunately, it’s become very common for online scam artists to pose as suitors on dating websites, wooing single women with loving emails and even gifts.
Once this trust was established, the scammer invents an “emergency” and asks the victim to wire money. In 2012, victims were collectively taken in these scams for a combined $34 million.
Nearly 30% of the victims were women over 50.
(For a detailed description of one common online dating scam, watch our video Looking for Love Online? Watch Out for Fake Profiles on Popular Dating Sites.)
Not Just Older Women
While Internet fraud isn’t limited to women over 50, this demographic is being targeted more and more by scammers using online dating sites to trick people out of money and other possessions.
In fact, when it comes to scams in general, older women accounted for about 10% of all online financial losses that were reported last year. That’s about $56 million worth of fraud.
However, NBC News reminds us that neither older women nor online dating sites are the only tarets of online thieves:
“The breadth of romance trolling is further illustrated by a startling statistic: Only one other type of online scam—auto fraud—made more money last year, accounting for $65 million in reported losses.”
For example, in online auto fraud schemes (which mostly consist of people trying to sell cars they don’t actually own), about 60% of the victims are males.
How You Can Protect Yourself Online
Although the danger may seem remote, Internet fraud and scams are real threat.
Luckily, there are a number of simple ways that you can protect yourself. The most important tip is keep your wits about you and learn how to recognize the warning signs and red flags, like:
Making a transaction with someone who says they will only accept wire transfers or cash. This generally indicates a scam. Stick with trusted and verifiable payment transfer services like PayPal.
If you’re getting ready to make a purchase online, you can often judge a book by its cover. When a website doesn’t look reputable, that’s typically because it isn’t.
Receiving an email that asks for your private information or asks you to download an attachment. This scheme, known as phishing, is one of the most common online scams. It can lead to identity theft and computer viruses. Be very careful with emails from anyone you don’t know.
And when you’re not sure, find out what other users are saying. Use Google or search Scambook for complaints about any suspicious individual, store or website.
So how do you stay safe online? Share your anti-scam tips in the comments.
Looking for Love Online? Watch Out for Fake Profiles on Popular Dating Sites
How to Date Online and Avoid Scams on Valentine’s Day 2013
Casual Dating in the Internet Culture: Grouper, Instagram, Facebook and You