The Dark Side of Online Dating: Stay Safe and Spot Scammers

On November 13, 2023 by Los Banos Enterprise Staff Writer

In recent years, the rise of online dating has revolutionized the way people seek companionship. However, this new digital romance landscape has also given rise to a darker side: dating scams. These scams, often sophisticated and deeply manipulative, prey on individuals seeking connection, leading to significant financial and emotional damages. The prevalence of these scams is alarming, with the Federal Trade Commission reporting that in 2021 alone, losses to romance scams in the United States reached a staggering $547 million, a nearly 80% increase from 2020.  The actual total could be much higher because many victims never report the crime due to the sensitive nature of the scheme.  Beyond the financial toll, these scams leave deep emotional scars on their victims.

To go deeper into this concerning trend, we’ve invited Jason Beberniss from Discreet Services, Inc., a seasoned private investigator specializing in romance schemes. Jason has a wealth of experience, having successfully investigated cases across the United States, Canada, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Aruba, and Mexico. Today, he shares his insights on the risks associated with online dating.

LBE: Welcome, Jason. Given the alarming statistics and your extensive experience in this field, could you first enlighten our audience about the general dangers users might face in online dating?

JASON: Absolutely. While online dating offers a convenient platform to connect, it’s crucial to be aware of several risks. These include catfishing, where individuals create false identities; financial scams aimed at exploiting users for money; phishing and identity theft, where personal information is targeted; love bombing, a manipulative tactic using excessive affection; and encountering inconsistent stories from potential matches, which can be a red flag for deceit.

LBE: That’s quite a list. Can tell us more about catfishing and its impact on online daters?

JASON: Sure. Catfishing is a particularly deceptive form of online scam that targets the trust and emotions of individuals looking for companionship. In these schemes, catfishers create detailed and entirely false online personas. They’re skilled at crafting narratives that are appealing yet entirely fictitious, often claiming to have prestigious or exotic jobs, or presenting themselves as exceptionally wealthy, to attract victims.

One of the telltale signs of catfishing is a refusal to participate in video calls or face-to-face meetings. They usually come up with creative excuses to avoid real-time interactions, which would expose their false identities. Additionally, these individuals often have a very limited or non-existent social media presence, making it difficult for potential victims to verify their stories or background.

Another common red flag is the use of extremely common names, such as “John Smith.” This tactic is deliberately chosen to make it harder to track their identity or find inconsistencies in their story. Alongside this, they often weave stories that are inconsistent or too good to be true, like claiming extraordinary wealth or an extravagant lifestyle.

Catfishers may also display a pattern of being overly eager or pushy in their interactions. This can manifest as a rush to emotional commitments or pressuring for personal information or financial aid. Their objective is to quickly establish a bond, making their victims more susceptible to manipulation and exploitation.

The impact of catfishing goes beyond financial loss; it often leaves a lasting emotional and psychological impact on victims, who may struggle with trust issues and emotional trauma long after the scam is uncovered. Therefore, it’s crucial to approach online relationships with a healthy dose of skepticism and vigilance, particularly when any of these red flags are present.

How prevalent are financial scams in online dating, and how can one spot them?

JASON: Financial scams are alarmingly common. They often start with the scammer quickly developing a close relationship, then claiming to be in a crisis or presenting an investment ‘opportunity’. Red flags include requests for money, banking information, or even involvement in financial transactions. The scammer might craft a story about a sudden financial emergency or promise great returns on an investment to lure the victim.

LBE: You also mentioned phishing and identity theft; they seem especially dangerous. How do these play out in the online dating scene?

JASON: Phishing and identity theft in online dating are subtle yet effective. Scammers may send links that appear benign but are actually designed to steal your information. They might also clone legitimate banking websites to trick users into entering their credentials. The key to avoiding this is to never share sensitive information online and be wary of clicking on links or downloading attachments from someone you’ve just met online.

LBE: The concept of ‘love bombing’ is intriguing. Could you explain more about this?

JASON: Love bombing is an emotional manipulation tactic. It involves the scammer showering their target with excessive affection, praise, and promises of a future together, often early in the relationship. This can be overwhelming and is designed to quickly break down the victim’s defenses. The scammer might talk about marriage or a life together within weeks of meeting, which isn’t typical of most genuine relationships.

LBE:  You have singled out inconsistent stories as a classic sign of deception. How can someone dating online be vigilant about this?

JASON: Inconsistent stories are a telltale sign of a scammer who may be juggling multiple targets or personas. Users should pay attention to any discrepancies in a match’s story about their background, job, or family. If they frequently change the subject when asked about personal details or provide vague answers, it’s a red flag. Scammers often slip up on the details because they’re not rooted in truth.

LBE: Those are valuable insights. Now, could you share some practical tips for staying safe while dating online?

JASON: Of course. First, protect your personal information. Never share your home address, financial details, or intimate photos with someone you’ve just met online. Use a separate email for online dating. When meeting someone for the first time, choose a public place and inform a friend or family member about your plans. Also, conduct your own research. Google the person’s name, check their social media profiles, and use reverse image searches to verify their photos. Lastly, trust your instincts. If something feels off, it’s better to err on the side of caution.

LBE: Finally, what’s your overall take on navigating the world of online dating?

JASON: Online dating can be a great way to meet people, but it requires a balance of openness and caution. By being aware of the risks, knowing the signs of scammers, and following safety tips, users can better protect themselves. It’s important to remember that trust should be built over time and not rushed. Ensuring your safety and well-being should always be your top priority in your online dating journey.

LBE: For those who might have already fallen prey to an online dating scam, what would you recommend they do?

JASON: In the unfortunate event that you find yourself a victim of an online dating scam, the first and most important step is to immediately stop all communication with the scammer. Do not continue the conversation, and refrain from sending any more money or personal information. Once you’ve cut off contact, the next step is to meticulously gather and document all evidence related to the scam. This includes saving all messages, emails, and records of transactions. Reporting the incident to the online dating platform is also key. They can act against the scammer’s profile and help prevent further victims.

LBE: Jason, thank you for your time and your knowledge on this subject.

If you’ve suffered a financial loss, promptly inform your bank or financial institution. They can provide guidance on securing your accounts and, if possible, reversing unauthorized transactions. Although it might seem daunting, reporting the scam to the police is also essential. While they might not always be able to take immediate action, your report contributes to broader efforts to combat online fraud.

In cases where you feel outmatched, consulting with a skilled private investigator can be beneficial. Investigators with expertise in online fraud can often offer more specialized resources and insights than local law enforcement. Finally, it’s vital to acknowledge and address the emotional toll of such an experience. Seeking support from friends, family, or professional counselors can play a significant role in your recovery process. Remember, falling victim to a scam does not reflect on your intelligence or character. The key is to learn from the experience and take proactive steps to safeguard yourself in the future.

Jasos Beberniss is a private investigator duly licensed under the laws of the State of Arizona. For more information about Jason or his firm follow this link: Discreet Services, Inc.

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