Mark Brooks: How to spot an online dating scammer – and why it’s getting tougher

Mark Brooks of OnlinePersonalsWatch works with many online dating sites – and says that all of them are plagued by fake profiles, scammers and criminals looking for money, not love. Millions are lost to these scammers each year – and worse still, the crime may be underestimated, as victims are often too distraught to reveal the extent of their losses.

Spotting scammers is getting harder – but there are still ways to ensure you stay safe, Brooks says.

Q: Is there an easy way to spot scammers from ‘normal’ daters?

It used to be easier – not now. If scammers have made it onto a dating site, its because the profile looks normal. All dating sites have to suppress and deal with fraud.  Its just part of the business.  The line of communication is the give away.  If they want you to get off the dating site asap – and communicate by email, say –  that’s a sign.

Q: If you are creating your own profile, is there anything that might make you a target?

The scammers play the odds. They’re looking for some sign of gullibility among people who are likely to have some savings.The religiously inclined are targeted.  They’re more likely to take a leap of faith.  Older women, because its tough to find a hot older gentleman. People who are generous, vulnerable, of-faith and fighting poor odds of finding a partner are ideal.  So if your profile hints at any of those, you’re more of a target.  Get a friend to review it.

Q: I’m already in a relationship online – can I be sure it’s for real?

No. Some of these fake relationships can last for years. They’ll pan for gold among tens of thousands to find a few pieces of gold. It used to be easy to just Google phrases – criminals often reused them – but now it is less so.  They get smarter and stronger each year.

Q: What should I do if I suspect someone IS a scammer?

I recommend 1. get on an impromptu Skype video call.  If they’re a different person than on their profile photo, bail!  2. If the person has a Facebook profile with 10 friends, well that’s a dead giveaway as well.  Who has just 10 friends on Facebook?  3. Listen to your gut. In general I recommend people chat for a short while, and then jump onto a video date anyway.  That helps waste less time in general anyway.  I don’t think anyone should put more than half an hour of time into communication without doing a video or real life date.

Q: My lover sends me gifts – surely that means he’s for real?

Scammers will take months to groom a target.  They’ll send gifts, and make users feel beautiful and cared for, and then it them with a test.  A small request to open up their wallets.  Then they’re off to the races.

Q: What should I watch for?

Bear in mind that its the scammers job to get users off the site asap.  They want to get into direct email or Skype or phone contact asap.  That way dating sites detection systems have less chance of picking up on unusual lines of communication.  For example, we know people don’t use the word ‘wire’ in regular dating communications.  That’s a red flag and is usually picked up by dating sites auto-detection systems.  The first line of defense.  But the scammers know better to use that word on dating sites now.  Its a constant cat and mouse.

Q: If I’m worried I’m being scammed, what do I do?

Report to the local police and ask to be referred to their cyber crimes unit. Sadly, prosecutions are still too rare. The problem is, most of these scams are cross-border and it becomes tough to coordinate jurisdiction.  Its exhausting, and most victims just want to put the entire event behind them.  Even if they’ve been taken for tens of thousands of dollars.  They’re not going to get satisfaction legally or financially.  What they can do is suck up the scammers time and just reel them in in return.  I like the approach.  In fact, in the dating industry, some sites used to use ‘scammer hell.’  They’ll identify scammers and then put them into their own database where they just scam each other.

Q: What is the worst thing I can do?

If you hop on a plane to meet your lover, you might be placing yourself in physical danger. My advice, don’t send money to someone you’ve never met, and don’t jump on a plane until you’ve verified the identity and existence of the person you’re visiting.  Ideally, take a friend.


Author , ESET

  • Kenny

    “If the person has a Facebook profile with 10 friends, well that’s a dead giveaway as well. Who has just 10 friends on Facebook?” I do! I have no need for 200 false friends.

    • I have to agree that this isn’t a viable heuristic: if you’re very picky about who you connect with on FB – say, only people you know in person and/or regard as a close friend – that’s perfectly legitimate. And even sensible: there are risks to being too open to ‘friending’ people you don’t know anything about – for instance, the number of fake accounts FB deletes on a daily basis is impressive. And who’s to say that someone with ten FB friends hasn’t only just joined? However, I know people with hundreds and even thousands of genuine contacts, based on mutual interests. They might not count them all as best buddies, they may never have met many of those people, but that certainly doesn’t make them ‘false friends’ by definition. There are many levels and definitions of friendship, and perhaps many cases ‘contact’ or ‘acquaintance’ would be more appropriate terms. As long as people bear that in mind when they decide what to share on a social network, I don’t see that as a problem.

  • FlDino

    I have to take offense at what is said here and in other “look out for scammers” sites. One of the first things they say is watch out for wanting to go to an IM (yahoo messenger) or other. When I started I found it easier then the dating site’s chat. Plus you can use the video call or even voice call to see if they are real. Now some also are saying if they don’t have a Facebook page? Really? I haven’t nor wouldn’t ever get on Facebook.That makes me a bad person? I would respect you more if you weren’t on it.

    It really is easy to spot a scammer…female anyway. They write/type like they talk so if words are incorrect or choppy, look out. It’s usually by the second, sometimes third session they ask for money for something. Bye Bye. Anything to do with Ghana? Bye Bye.

    Some other things they say here aren’t as cut and dried. Sometimes feelings really are real and don’t necessarily mean a scam is under way.

    It is worse than I ever imagined but these “spot a scammer” sites don’t have it all right.

    • I must admit, some of those heuristics sound a bit sweeping. Judging someone’s ‘genuineness’ by the number of Facebook friends makes as much sense as going by the colour of their eyes. However, I’m not sure that disrespecting someone because they’re on Facebook or assuming that only bad people are bad at spelling is the way to go either.

      • FlDino

        Just to clarify, I don’t disrespect someone’s choice to join. Their option. I just don’t understand the need to put your whole life on display for whomever to see. Email and IM’s are just as easy to keep up with family and friends and less prone to being hacked.

        • I’m not the biggest fan of Facebook, but it’s perfectly possible to use it with reasonable privacy and without being some sort of exhibitionist.

  • Judy

    I met a chap on line dating, he asked me to go off the site, so no one else could see my profile. I didn’t agree so he started to ask my login name and email. Well eventually he harassed me so much I withdrew from the site. Se2 I have contacted them, but they never replied to me. He sent flowers, got me to go on skype but never showed his face, and then YES, then came an email asking for money? I never sent any, he still contacts me, sending emails with songs, sends messages to my phone. Pleading me to talk to him. He was a scammer and yes I was hurt. So be very careful, don’t fall for their I love you, I will look after you, once my project is finished and I get payment. If this can save one person, from being scammed, look for the signs “honey” not your name, they are very good, but evil people. So beware lol

  • Simone Walsh

    I have been chatting with a man , emails , no phone contact , I stupidly gave him my address he told me he was in Syria and wanted me to send money for a phone so he could ring me , we had been chatting for a little , but he has got nasty now , demanding money or my life is on the line as well as my family and children , I am very worried as he has my address , I went to the police while I was there got an email saying I have 7 hrs to get $500 if I don’t I will see the consequence and let him know when I have it and to act fast before it starts , so he has threaten my life , the police don’t know what to do , they can’t trace him or his emails because it would all be fake even the picture he sent is fake , feeling very vulnerable and frighten ATM , I think he is overseas but that don’t make it any easier for me . Not sure what to do . I should have known better ,

    • Robert

      There is an email tracking service called Read Notify, try that. I hope that helps!

  • Phyllis Prokes

    i have a guy chatting with me. his name is Dave cruz. davidcruzmee. he just texted me. he is on that list dr phil had on his show. does anyone remember the name of the site to find scammers that he gave on the show.

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