After pressing the enter key on her keyboard on July 12th, Carol had changed her life in a catastrophic way. In an instant, she had wiped out her savings account, yet at the time she didn’t care. She thought she had taken the final step in bringing love back into her life.
Unbeknownst to her, she will never see that money or its recipient, a man she thought was called David, ever again.
Carol divorced her husband of seven years in 2012. Having never dated online, her friends’ recommendations to give it a try were met with some skepticism. She had no idea where to start, she sheepishly joined up to a large dating site and was surprised at the amount of attention she was receiving.
She started chatting to a guy named David, an ex-military man living abroad. Things quickly got serious, they professed to love each other and move in together as soon as possible. David worked as a salesman, selling large amounts of clothing to different businesses.
On the day David was set to move the US, he frantically messaged her claiming his stock had been seized by customs in his home country. He was planning to set up his business in the US, however, they were demanding $10,000 in export tax fees or he’ll never see his stock again.
David explained he could not afford to live in the US without his business and asked if she could loan him the money. He would be able to pay her back with turnover from the business. After a very short amount of time Carol agreed, it was a lot of money but his promises of paying it back and the idea of finally having David in the US convinced her.
She transferred the money to a bank account he provided details for, and then, nothing. David’s messaging accounts went offline, his phone number was cut off. Carol never heard from David again.
Carol’s story is one of many, many female divorcees who have been scammed when dating online. They constitute the largest demographic for online scammer victims and are a prime target for unscrupulous online individuals. If you’re setting out for online dating, be sure to follow our expert advice. Even if you already follow the cardinal rule of not sending money to unknown individuals, be sure to stay safe to avoid heartbreak.
How to Stay Safe From Scams When Dating Online After Divorce
Date When You’re Ready
The most important piece of advice also applies to dating after divorce in general, only date when you’re ready.
Scammers are focussed on getting an emotional response, they have extensive ways to build personal connections with people in order to exploit them. As someone who’s divorced or separated, you’re a prime target for them.
Being emotionally fragile for an amount of time after divorce is normal and perfectly acceptable, however, it does make a scammer’s job easier. They’re able to take advantage of that fragility, preying on emotional scars to get what they want.
Make sure you’re emotionally ready before starting to date online. This doesn’t mean dating when you’ve stopped being nervous or a little uneasy about it, that might always be there. But instead, when you’ve come to terms with your divorce or separation, that you understand that your relationship is in the past and there’s an enthusiasm to meet someone new.
Scammer’s Profile Photos
The first telltale sign for scammers is their photos. More often than not, scammers are individuals outside of your country but they go to great efforts to hide that. Claiming to be abroad only on business or travel.
Take a look at their profile photos, are there many of them or weirdly very few? The expected standard would be 4 or more. Are they candid photos on night outs or events, or are they professional photos? Do they have watermarks or appear very pixelated?
None of these things alone should deter you from messaging with someone, however, they are signs to stay vigilant.
A great way to see if this person is genuine is to ‘reverse image search’ their photos. Scammers have to search the web to find suitable photographs, they will take them from any random site they can find. You can use that to your advantage by ‘searching’ for the image online. ‘Reverse image search’ takes a photo you have and finds out if it’s already online and where. To do this simply:
- Right click on the profile photo and choose the Save option
- Go to Google Image Search and select ‘Search By Image’
- Select ‘Upload a Photo’ and choose the photo you’ve just saved
- Take a look at the results.
Does the photo appear on sites that have nothing to do with the person you’re talking to? Are there other dating sites with users under different names? Do the photos appear on scammer prevention forums? These are all red flags that you should stop messaging immediately and alert the dating site about this person’s profile.
Red Flag Phrases
Scammers play the numbers game, they contact as many people as possible in the hope they’ll be able to exploit one of them. For that reason, they re-use a lot of text, either for profile descriptions or in their messages. They frequently use the following phrases in an attempt to make them appear trustworthy and a perfect catch.
Top of the list of trying to appear trustworthy is being overly religious or ‘God fearing’. They’ll explain they are looking for an ‘honest’ woman for a serious relationship and that they’re family oriented and loyal. They’ll say they work in respected fields, such as the military, nurse/aid worker, volunteering or a high flying career such as art dealer or international businessman.
They also have a sob story at hand to lure sympathy, most commonly about a wife who has passed.
Their messages will hold a host of other red flag opportunities. At first, they’ll be very keen to move away from the dating platform and instead use a messaging service such as Whatsapp or email.
In their messages, their English may degrade over time – as they need to write new messages as the conversation continues. Their messages will very quickly move to serious relationship topics, they’ll profess to be falling for you very rapidly and that they are ‘blessed to have you in their life’. You’ll also find a lot of terms of endearment such as ‘babe’ or ‘angel’.
Granted, none of these alone should be cause for alarm however remember to be cautious. For particularly long messages, try copying and pasting what they say into a search engine. If you see a lot of exact results, then be wary. Remember if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
How they Scam
There are a number of different ways scammers try to extort money from individuals, from outright asking for it to blackmail. Many will prey upon your current relationship, spinning a sob story to try and get what they want, e.g. they’re stuck at customs or are in financial ruin. Others may offer a larger amount of money to you, but first, they need some ‘small’ seed money.
For any instances of individuals asking for money, be sure to get in contact with the dating platform immediately – even if it’s been a while since you last messaged with them there. For a reputable site, they have tools available to determine authentic individuals. If you are suspicious, also contact your local police.
If you believe this is a genuine person, still air on the side of caution. Politely refuse their request, if they are genuine they’ll understand and move on, if they don’t they’re either a scammer or someone who would make for a poor partner. No self-respecting person is going to ask you for money after meeting on an online dating site. Either case, feel confident in leaving your conversation and moving onto something better.
Given that they’ve established a romantic relationship, others may use any compromising messages or photos you’ve sent to try and blackmail you. This is especially true for divorced mothers, where scammers threaten to leak their personal photos and messages to their children and children’s’ friends. It’s difficult to say what you should or should not send to people online, but the recommendation is to remember anything you share may not be kept personal. While there are laws to combat this, it can be a difficult process to get compromising information removed from the web.
With all that doom and gloom, it may seem dating online is a no-go. Thousands have used online dating to find love again after a difficult divorce, do not let a small number of bad apples ruin the bunch. Online dating can be fun and liberating but just like anything exciting, be sure to stay safe.
Lover of romance, Lucy Jones is resident dating expert for mature dating site Toyboy Warehouse. She specializes in helping mature women get the most out of dating. She’s a licensed relationship counselor and is twice divorced, which helps mix professional advice and real-life insights into her work. www.toyboywarehouse.com