Online Dating Scammers: 10 Red Flags To Spot & Avoid Them


The worst sort of criminal is the kind that preys on us when we are at our most vulnerable. When it comes to matters of the heart, even the smartest person can look past logic and fall into the jaws of a scam. 

Online dating scammers rely on our need for companionship, love and the avoidance of painful loneliness. Everyone deserves to find someone special, but that doesn’t mean you need to be completely uncritical when looking for love online. 

We’re going to look at how online dating scammers work, what the warning signs are and how you can deal with each one.

How Online Dating Scammers Work

There are two main types of online dating scammers. The first is motivated by pure profit. The idea is to build a relationship with you. Then emotionally manipulate you into parting with your valuables. 

The second type of scam is more insidious, since most of the time, there’s no monetary gain. This is known as “catfishing” and is a form of internet trolling. The aim is to humiliate or otherwise emotionally harm you as a cruel prank. 

While catfishing doesn’t generally fleece you of money (although it may move in that direction) many of the signs are still shared between both types of online dating scammers. Here are some of the most common red flags.

Things Move WAY Too Fast

The scammer needs to make a profit, which means they are on the clock. While you may be in no rush and just want to enjoy the early stages of getting all lovey-dovey, the real person behind the fake profile wants dollars and they want them now. 

This means you’ll definitely sense a certain lack of hesitation from the other side of the screen. Your online “date” wants to go from 0-60 in no time flat. So if things are getting hot and heavy at an insincere speed, you should definitely take a step back without those rose-tinted love glasses.

What To Do About It

You need to take control over the pace of commitment. Ask them detailed questions about their lives. Take a real interest. Let them know you’re interested in getting to know them before getting serious. 

This isn’t foolproof. Some online dating scammer outfits are willing to work their marks for months or years, but most are in it for a quick buck and putting the brakes on makes you unprofitable.

Things Don’t Add Up

Online dating scammers have to build multiple fake online personas. Yes, even the scammer has to play the field. They might tell you that there are no other victims, but the truth is being an online dating scammer is a bit like being a battery farm chicken. You’re stuffed into a box and expected to produce, produce, produce.

The good news is that this means most of these fake online profiles are paper thin. Just a casual read through their social media profiles should highlight details that don’t match up.

What To Do About It

Do your research just as you would with any other stranger on the web. It’s almost impossible for people to keep their lives off the net these days. So look beyond the channels your prospective online date has used to contact you. 

Do a reverse image search on their profile picture. See if they interact with family members. Do they have a LinkedIn page? Do the details about their lives add up? Are they the same between profiles?

They Ask For Money

The hallmark of an online dating scammer is that pretty quickly after hooking you, the requests for money will come. There are many different tacks that can be taken here, but the central issue is the request for money in the first place.

What To Do About It

It may be difficult, but you need to absolutely refuse any form of monetary payments. If you already made a payment, it’s still not too late to stop. Even if the person isn’t a scammer, it’s still predatory and highly inappropriate to ask someone you’ve only known for a few days or weeks for money. 

Ask yourself if you would have been comfortable giving a person you’ve never met in real life money? Even best friends don’t ask for financial help lightly. More importantly, this is the age of crowdfunding. If someone has a genuine emergency and wants money from strangers, they’d be better off starting a GoFundMe page.

Poor English Or Overall Language Use

This can be a touchy one. Having a poor command of the English language doesn’t automatically mean you are dealing with an online dating scammer. The web makes it possible for people from any background to meet. So it’s entirely possible that the person you are legitimately starting a romantic journey with just doesn’t speak or write English well.

The actual red flag is when there’s no reason to expect bad English from the person they are pretending to be. If the person claims to be an English speaker, college educated or a native of an Anglophone country, then it’s a major red flag when their English is broken and of poor quality. 

The same principle applies if you are communicating in a language other than English, of which you are a competent speaker.

What To Do About It

The only thing you can really do is be wary if the person’s language use is poor, inconsistent or otherwise suspicious. Raising the issue with someone who isn’t a scammer could still be highly offensive. 

However, you can ask questions related to the issue that might clear things up. Questions such as “How many languages do you speak?” or “Is English your first language? You have an interesting way of writing.”

Elaborate Sob Stories

Another common feature of online dating scammers is the elaborate sob story. It just so happens that you’ve come into this person’s life just as everything was about to go wrong. Their dog is sick, their mom needs cancer treatment, they’re about to be evicted and so on.

Typically these stories are convoluted and the more you question them, the more details are added to muddy the waters further. This is all underscored by desperation and heart-wrenching pleas for help. They really do love you, if you love them you’ll help them out. 

You can bet the request for ever-escalating amounts of money will soon follow.

What To Do About It

Most people with a healthy nonsense-detector will smell something fishy when the stories of melodramatic tragedy start rolling in. Whether the story is true or not, it’s not your responsibility to fix it. 

You can sympathise, you can offer advice, but never offer money. It’s especially nasty if there’s an implication of quid pro quo, but that’s a matter for your own moral compass.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

You can bet that online dating scammers are no strangers to being interrogated. Most of their marks smell something fishy pretty quickly, so they have a playbook of excuses to string you along for as long as possible, just in order to get a few more dollars or (with catfishing) a few more laughs.

Since they aren’t a real person, anything you ask for that would be trivial for a real person to do is something they have to avoid. Want to have a video call? They’ll find a reason why they can’t. Want to fly out to meet them to call their bluff? They probably won’t agree unless they’ve already fleeced enough from you for the scam to end. 

As much as possible, the scammer will want to keep you at a distance they can control. This makes it easy to hold up the facade.

What To Do About It

A few reasonable excuses are one thing, but if it turns out that your request for a real life meeting or a simple Skype call are met with an iron curtain of reasons they can’t happen, then it’s best to end things. Even if it was never a scam. 

Relationships are meant to open up gradually over time, someone who is red-hot in texts, but won’t get on camera is a major red flag.

Escalating Desperation

Online dating scammers are no stranger to people resisting the call for money. That’s where they really begin to ply their trade. First they get a foot in the door with the opening gambit of the sob story. Then, when you aren’t forthcoming with the cash, things get worse. 

Eventually you’ll have the other person begging you for help, questioning your self-image as a good person. They will not shy away from hurting you emotionally for a few bucks. In fact, the more distraught they can make you through your empathy the less likely you’ll be to stop and think. 

What To Do About It

This can be a tough one, especially if the scammer has spent a long time grooming you for this moment. The best thing to do is put time and distance between yourself and these please. 

Go for a walk, take a deep breath and look at what’s being said outside of the influence of strong emotion. Time pressure and heightened emotions are tools that manipulators use to force you into making decisions without thinking. 

Forcing You To a Different Service

One common tactic used by these scammers is to quickly move you from a mainstream platform like Facebook or Twitter, to somewhere only they control. This can be simple text messaging, WhatsApp or something obscure. They don’t want to be reported and they don’t want you bringing other people into the conversation. 

It’s critical that they control as many of the variables in your conversation as possible. If the person is strangely insistent that you move away from the platform where you met, be suspicious.

What To Do About It

Refuse. There’s no good reason to move you away from the platform you trust and are already using. Don’t cede control over the terms of the conversation to the other person. If they won’t meet you halfway, then you don’t have any reason to keep talking.

Dodgy Link Sharing

While online dating scammers (apart from catfishers) are interested in making money, they might not go about it in a direct way. Online dating scammers may build trust with you to get you to click on scam links. 

We all love sharing memes and good content with our friends, so you are much more likely to click on something a “trusted” person sends you without stopping to think. It could be a phishing link, a malware download or anything really. If your online beau really wants you to click on a link, be very wary.

What To Do About It

The standard cybersecurity rules apple. Don’t click on the links you don’t know and trust. Don’t download and run files you don’t know the provenance of. If you really must, run antivirus scans on any downloads and only open suspicious links using a browser sandbox. Never type sensitive or personal information into any forms found through these links.

Supermodel Photos

OK, it’s not impossible that your online date actually is an incredibly attractive professional model. However, the vast majority of people don’t have profile photos that seem to have been ripped from a magazine. So it’s a red flag for sure.

Of course, scammers are getting wise to this. So they might simply steal the profile picture of another person. They might also steal other photos from that person’s profile to make their own seem more legitimate.

What To Do About It

The easiest thing to do is simply run a reverse image search on the photo in question and see if it comes up somewhere else.

Thinking With Your Head, Not Your Heart

Humans tend to reason emotionally. People in marketing know this, which is why adverts focus on feelings. They want to make you hot under the collar with the “sex sells” strategy or make you feel sad and sympathetic so you’ll buy a product or donate to a cause. 

Scammers are using the same playbook, but don’t even offer something in return for your cash, time and emotional investment. Which is why you should always maintain some degree of distance between yourself and your feelings when it comes to online relationships. 

Until you’re physically present together, the relationship isn’t concrete. Plenty of people are finding love online, but you need to be the one hooking a good catch, not the one getting hooked by a criminal.