If you or someone you know is doing online dating, listen up.
These days it's often hard to tell the difference between the profiles of men and women who want a real romance and the ones who are "fake news" on a dating site.
Sure, I know a handful of people who met online, got married and have healthy relationships. But more often than not, singles are being fed pretend profiles—or worse—getting scammed.
You may have heard the term "catfished," a word used when someone gets scammed from someone on an online dating site pretending to be someone they're not. It means they've been had, lied to, and maybe even grossly misled to give their own money to someone who pretended to be in need.
Romance scams happen far too often.
According to Consumer Reports, "Just over a year ago, the Department of Justice announced that seven men—six from Nigeria and one from South Africa—had plead guilty to conning tens of millions of dollars from Americans via online dating sites."
How does it happen?
Most often, the person looking for love online gets a message with a photo of a single man or woman who is super attractive. He or she may look too good to be true. Then the scammer plays into your insecurities or loneliness, or immediately flatters you heavily with words of affection when he doesn't even know you yet.
"Typically, the scammer builds trust by writing long letters over weeks or months and crafting a whole persona for their victims," says David Farquhar, Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI. "That big investment gives victims a false sense that the relationship must be real."
Sometimes the scammer will ask for money. He or she will suddenly need funds for an emergency or tragedy and must have it right away. Without vetting the source to whom you are giving, you could get scammed out your savings.
Recently, I was misled by a man who claimed to be someone he was not on a popular dating website. Thankfully, it only lasted a few days, and my heart and my wallet are still intact.
He said he was "Chad from Denver." He was very handsome, college-educated, a Christian believer, and someone with whom I seemed to have a lot in common.
But when he messaged me, I knew something was off.
Among other things, he said, "I will like to get to know you," when correct grammar would be "I would like to get to know you." At first, I chalked it up to problems with autocorrect on his smartphone and gave him the benefit of the doubt.
But when he made the same mistake three times with "I will like to get to know you," and had other big problems with sentence structure, I began to think something was off. This was a person who claimed to have a college education but couldn't even compose a simple sentence.
I knew I needed to get answers.
I asked for his phone number. And before I called it, I scoured the internet and found that it was connected to a landline in another city far, far away from where he said he lived.
In the end, he turned out not to be Chad from Denver but a con man. So, I reported him to the dating site, and they promptly took action and informed me (and the other thousands of site users) that they had closed his account.
No one wants to be scammed. Especially when you are looking for love. So how do you know who is real online and who is not?
Here are five ways to avoid online dating scams:
1) Be aware. The place to start is first knowing that online scams happen. Not everything you see on a dating website is real.
2) Vet. Do research to see if this person really is who he says he is. Google her name. Read the Consumer Reports article (link below) for specific ways to vet a person. Check their spelling and grammar in communications. If it doesn't sound correct, that may be your first clue something is wrong. (Of course, there are people who don't communicate well in writing, so that doesn't necessarily mean everyone who can't spell is a bad person.) Use wisdom.
3) Ask for help. Talk to people close to you whom you trust and ask what they think of the online profile you are hesitant about or may think is sketchy. There is wisdom is asking for wise counsel.
4) Report it. If you think someone is conning you—or isn't who they say they are—report it to the online dating site. You may prevent someone else from getting hurt in the future.
5) Pray. Pray for your dating life and your whole life. Ask God to direct you and protect you ("Lord, keep me from the wrongs ones and save me for the right one for me.")
If you have an inner feeling that "something's not right," trust that feeling. And take cautious steps to back out of what could be a con.
Of course, not all dating profiles are fake. There are some really amazing men and women out there who truly are looking for a great date or lasting love.
Here's to finding the real thing, and cherishing it, whether it's found online or in another way.
For more information on recognizing and avoiding romance scams, go to this Consumer Reports link. Quotes for blog post taken from this article.