As Online Dating Grows, So do Scams

Online dating can claim some remarkable results:

  • There are now about 1,400 online dating sites in North America.
  • In 2007 one in eight married couples met first online, that number continues to increase.
  • 40% of the US single population now uses online dating sites, roughly equal to 40 million people, according to,
  • grows by 60,000 new members daily.
  • Americans who search for love online spend over 2 hours a night talking to prospective dates
  • Over $500 million dollars have been spent so far this year on internet dating sites according to Iovation.
  • Forrester Research reports that online dating is now the third largest producer of revenue out of all paid content sites, generating $957 million in 2008; a figure the firm predicts will grow 10 percent by 2013.

That’s a lot of people representing a lot of money.

When done with caution, online dating can be safer than meeting people in the “real” world because you have more time to get to know someone before meeting him or her in person. I personally know many happy couples who would never have met their spouses had it not been for online dating sites.

But dating online requires you take steps to protect yourself…

Predators follow their prey

As in any environment, abusers, criminals and predators follow wherever potential victims can be found, and with the number of online daters soaring, it should come as no surprise that crooks from around the world are hard on dater’s heels.

Last month Google found that search terms like “online dating” and “free dating” are getting the most hits from fraudsters in African countries, and police forces around the world are bracing for an explosion in scams as East African countries move from dialup to broadband speeds in June 2010 allowing African scammers to rival counterparts in former soviet block western countries.

Common progression in a dating scam

  1. The scammer posts an attractive photo (stolen) and fake profile on a dating website.
  2. Scammer sends a mass message to members with canned text.
  3. If the scammer gets a reply, they begin showing interest in the victim and ask if the victim wants to know more about the scammer.
  4. At some point the scammer will share their email address in an attempt to get the victim out of the monitored dating environment and away from any safeguards that help protect the victim’s identity. They may want to converse via IM, phone calls, even webcams. They may suggest sexually explicit interactions via web cam or compromising photos of the victim for resale and/or blackmail later.
  5. Conversations progress until the scammer believes they have secured the victim’s trust and emotions, and then begin introducing a story about how they are having difficulties and need your help in some way. The story will be customized to further gain sympathy and affection from the victim.
  • At some point the scammer will ask for money (sent as cash, money orders, merchandise, or currency exchange through a service like Western Union). Or suggest you pay for a plane ticket so you can meet, or ask you to accept shipment of items to forward to someone else, or to cash a check for them and place the money in a specific account (you’ll be stuck when the check bounces and you have to cover the cost).
  • As long as the victim continues to believe, the scammer will keep asking for money. In some cases victims loose tens of thousands of dollars.

Learn more about romance scams at

Not all dating are equal when it comes to protecting your safety.

The first rule of thumb is to trust your instincts when interacting with a potential date. Select your online dating service carefully. Look for an established, popular site with plenty of members and a philosophy that matches your own.

Some sites do extensive background screening, have active moderation teams watching for scams, and strict privacy measures to help protect you, others have no such safeguards in place. I can’t recommend a site that offers you no protection. With 1,400 online dating sites to choose from, select what works for you.
Follow these safety tips:

  1. Maintain anonymity to protect your identity. Don’t include your full name, phone number, where you work, or detailed location information in your profile or during early communications with potential dates. Stop communicating with anyone who presses you for this type of information.
  2. Use the e-mail system provided by the dating service rather than your own e-mail address to maintain your privacy.
  3. Be smart about choosing profile pictures. Make sure your photos reflect what you want to say about yourself. Provocative pictures may attract the wrong people. Make sure that your images do not contain identifying information such as nearby landmarks or a T-shirt with your school or company logo.
  4. Check to see if a potential date has a good reputation among other daters on the service.
  5. Be realistic. Read the profiles of others with skepticism. As you correspond or talk on the phone, ask questions, seek direct answers, and note any inconsistencies. Look for danger signs such as a display of anger, an attempt to control you, disrespectful comments, or any physically threatening or otherwise unwelcome behavior.
  6. If a person becomes abusive, report it and block that person from contacting you again using the dating site settings.
  7. When you decide to meet, create a safe environment. Keep first dates short, and agree to meet in a public place during a busy time of day, Make sure somebody knows where you’re going. If your date doesn’t look like his or her photo, walk away and report that person to the dating service.
  8. If a date asks you for a loan or any financial information, no matter how sad the hard luck story, it is virtually always a scam and you should report it.

With dating scams increasing, you simply can’t afford to date online without knowing how to spot and avoid risks.



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