Online Dating Site Abuses and What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
Online dating is exasperating, frightening, but also fun and amusing. I’ve shared some of my experiences in other articles and now I’d like to address something that is unique to this venue: scammers.
The perils of online dating
This is a general category that includes fakes, bots, hackers, and those whose aim is to give you a sob story and persuade you to wire them money, get your credit card numbers, or all those plus your bank account and social security numbers to steal your identity.
You might be thinking: That’s not unique to dating sites; all internet sites are targets for scams, not to mention all the greedy fakers/bas***ds that keep our phones ringing off the hook to sell us or trick us.
Be on guard
True enough. We all need to get savvy and be on our guard whenever we do business or interact socially online. There are too many people out there dangling shiny objects to distract us from listening to our gut. Even those who mean well can be a bit misguided.
Case in point: I just saw a vintage episode of “The Donna Reed Show” (1958-1966) where Donna advises young Mary about the right way to think and behave. “Darling,” she tenderly tells her teenage daughter, “When you handle yourself, use your head. When you handle others, use your heart.” In the context of contemporary social discourse, that’s terrible advice. Of course, that was before the computer age so maybe I should cut Donna some slack. On the other hand, the shadow side of human nature has always lurked. Danger hung its hat in places more hidden in the past than now.
Before the digital age
Before the digital age we could only meet people at traditional venues: work, school, through a mutual friend, at a party, a dance, a club; through volunteer organizations, in a supermarket produce section, at gun shows, flea markets, auctions, carnivals, church bazaars, ice cream socials, etc. I was an adult during those days of yore, back when we used rotary dial phones and had to memorize numbers or keep a little black book handy. Singles hoping to date approached each other politely and casually. Alcohol in moderation helped the shy ones lower their inhibitions. Dancing allowed people to touch strangers respectfully. It was a layer of connection, of group intimacy that has no substitute today. It provided a nonverbal context that supplemented conversation, as well as a social ritual that bonded us to the community at large.
Perhaps most significantly, there were people nearby that could offer both protection and guidance in the form of family, friends, neighbors, law enforcement, teachers, chaperones, and good Samaritans. Anybody that provided a buffer and the space or invitation to have second thoughts.
The cyber universe
But we’re on our own in the cyber universe. We have to use our heads more than our hearts, and that is quite a challenge when people go to dating sites feeling lonely and vulnerable. This is why dating sites are such popular targets for scammers. So here are just a few things that should be red flags when you make contact with someone online:
When the profile doesn't match the person
1. The profile doesn’t match the way the person communicates with you. For example, I emailed and talked on the phone with a guy whose profile was that of a middle-aged white man claiming to be a veterinarian and living in a Michigan town not far from mine. His written narrative seemed pretty conventional, no red flags there. But when he wrote to me personally, his writing was stilted and awkward, weird for a highly educated person who works with the public. I was suspicious and curious, so I agreed to a phone call. On the phone he sounded African-American with a heavy New York accent, mumbling and talking street. When I put pressure on him and demanded he describe himself, he refused, and when I told him the guy in the photo was that of a Midwestern bespectacled white man, he said: “He’s white? Well, don’t believe everything you see!” I told him I’d be reporting him as a fraud and hung up.
Pushing you towards an app
2. They pressure you to get off the site right away and download an app to chat with you. This is a scam to redirect you to a site where they might ask you for financial information to steal your money and/or identity.
3. They initiate contact and claim to have found their soulmate, but suggest you contact their single, lonely best friend and furnish you with a phone number and email address. This is a popular one I’ve encountered several times and the narrative remains pretty much the same. The first time, I went to a people lookup app and did a search on the phone and email address, neither of which existed. I didn’t quite have the whole picture at that point and I sent a message to the originator and told him the information was suspicious. He didn’t know what I was talking about, making it clear that he never sent me anything. My best guess is that someone had hacked into his account and sent messages from it that he couldn’t see—but he could see my responses.
Trust your gut
My best advice is to trust your gut. A lot of people will try to pressure you into getting off the site and exchanging phone numbers and private email addresses, often during the first contact. Even if it isn’t a scammer, nobody should be hustling anybody to do this. Do what feels comfortable. Try not to argue or act defensive with people that seem off, insensitive or hostile, just stop writing to them and move on.
Paying attention to the red flags
The bad news is that scamming/hacking has increased on dating sites. I calculated that nearly twenty percent of all the men I interacted with online were frauds, most of whom I reported to the site staff. That’s a lot of people and a lot of wasted time. If you pay for membership, it’s a waste of your investment, too.
The good news is that you can protect yourself by being vigilant, seeing the red flags and moving on quickly when something seems fishy. Most people on these sites are legit, and connecting with someone special is still possible.
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