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How to Spot Scammers on Dating Sites

He sounds too good to be true, then he asks for money. Here's what to look for, and how to report dating fraud.

Recently one of my friends called me with some exciting news. She connected with a nice guy on a dating website. They had several email exchanges. He was widowed. He was a hard worker. He was romantic.

He was a fraud.

Luckily my friend clued into some red flags. The emails became very romantic, very fast. He was always too busy to meet or connect by phone. And then the big red flag: he had to go overseas to work on an oil rig. While he was there an accident occurred and then, wait for it, he needed money.

By this point my friend had stopped responding and contacted the dating site to report the fraudulent suitor. Fortunately, other than lost time she didn’t lose money. A week later, she was contacted by another suitor with an almost identical “Nice to meet you” introduction email. Needless to say, she didn’t respond.

Throughout the pandemic, many people have felt isolated and alone, so it’s natural to seek new connections. With Valentine’s Day approaching many people will take a leap of faith on love. Online dating is popular and like anything that engages consumers, scammers find a way to take advantage of trusting hearts.

Dating apps and sites can be a wonderful way to meet your mate, just ask the millions of happy couples out there. And most people on these sites are there for the right reasons. But before you invest your time, heart and especially money on anyone, there are some things to be aware of.

A scammer’s intention is to establish a relationship while endearing themselves as a victim. They also work to gain trust. A common ploy is the one my friend experienced. Scammers will often say they work in the field of construction and building and are working on a project out of the U.S. This eliminates the “Why can’t we meet in-person question.”

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The FBI recommends being careful with the information included on profiles and when posting on social media. Scammers are pros at taking details and creating a specific target to engage someone. You can dig a bit deeper into people who contact you by researching the person’s photo and profile to see if the name, image or other details have been used elsewhere.

    >> Plus: How to Protect Yourself From Travel Scams

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And don’t be too quick to leave the dating service or social media platform site to communicate directly. The FBI also recommends being aware of anyone who attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.

Beware if your suitor regularly promises to meet in person, sets a place and time but then always has an excuse as to why they can’t meet. This is how they make their target feel confident that there is a real person who wants to meet, and their intentions are sincere. It can be a way to gain an unsuspecting person’s trust.

The FTC warns people that scammers will ask for money so they can pay for things such as medical expenses or plane tickets. They will ask to be paid by wiring money, with reload cards, or with gift cards because they can get cash quickly and remain anonymous. If you gave a scammer a gift card, the FTC offers specific tips to help.

If you are suspicious of a romance scam, stop communicating with the person. The FTC posts a range of articles on these types of scams. You can look at other people’s comments to see if something sounds familiar to what you are experiencing.

If you have been a victim of fraud, you can file a complaint with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center. You can also report it to the FTC.

Jeanette Pavini is an Emmy Award winning journalist specializing in consumer news and protection. She is the author of “The Joy of $aving: Money Lessons I Learned From My Italian-American Father & 20 Years as a Consumer Reporter.” Jeanette is a regular contributor to TheStreet. Her work includes reporting for CBS, MarketWatch, WSJ Sunday, and USA Today. Jeanette has contributed to “The Today Show” and a variety of other media outlets. You can follow her money saving tips and ways to give back on Facebook: Jeanette Pavini: The Joy of $aving Community. Find links to her social media and her book at JeanettePavini.com.