Dangers of online dating: How to stay safe


General Finance

It's Valentine's Day, and that means couples will fill restaurants, forgetful partners will run to the shops for last-minute gifts, and you might see a proposal or two pop up on your newsfeed.

This time of year might not be your favourite if you're single. However, with online dating sites and mobile apps it couldn't be easier to look for love – and this is something that's not gone unnoticed by fraudsters.

The number of people defrauded in the UK by online dating scams reached a record high in 2016, according to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. To make sure your online relationship doesn't end in heartbreak, we're taking you through how to stay safe when looking for love online.

Cautionary tale

According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and Get Safe Online, online dating fraud cost victims £27 million in the UK last year.

Action Fraud report over 2,700 online dating crimes over the last 12 months, with the average person losing around £10,000.The number of crimes might be higher as some victims might not report it out of embarrassment.

One woman lost more than £300,000 to an online dating scam. She signed up to dating site Match.com and made contact with someone called Marcelo from Manchester. He said he was working in Turkey, and persuaded her to move their chat off the dating website to an instant messaging service.

From there, the two began exchanging messages. Before he was set to fly to the UK to meet her, he said he was mugged in Turkey and unable to pay his workers. He also said his son was in hospital and needed surgery. After making several payments to him, the victim is now facing bankruptcy.

How to stay safe

Most victims of online dating fraud have a similar cautionary tale. To help you know what to look out for when you first meet, watch out for these signs.

• The person asks you a lot of questions about yourself, but doesn't say much about themselves.

• They don't tell you basic things like where they live and work.

• Their profile picture looks too perfect, like an actress or model.

• They ask you to move your conversation to instant messaging and texts, rather than through the dating site where you met.

Once you've established a relationship, you should look out for the following signs.

• They've arranged to visit you but ask for money to pay travel costs.

• They claim that they are part of the military overseas and require funds for flights home or early leave.

• They claim they need money for medical reasons such as a sudden surgery for themselves or a family member.

A sob story is the easiest way for a fraudster to gain your sympathy, as it's not something that most people would question. You should trust your instincts in this situation, if something doesn't feel right (or sound it), it probably isn't.

You should pick a dating website or app that lets you protect your anonymity until you decide to reveal personal information about yourself. Do not give out your personal details such as your phone number on dating sites.

If you get to the stage where you're going to meet them, do so in a safe public place. You should tell a family member or friend where you'll be.

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