5 Common Online Dating Scams (And How YOU Can Avoid Them)

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5 Online Dating Scams (And How YOU Can Avoid Them)

Before you meet your digital soulmate, here are red flags to help you date safely.

The buzz about the Los Angeles Times featured series Dirty John has everyone in shock and glued to the podcast, as well as the paper and online versions of this six-part series.

It became the top-ranked podcast in the Apple store and kept everyone on the edge of their seats in this true-crime story.

Singles are now wondering, how can a smart woman get conned by a dangerous man and sociopath she met online who threatened her and her family? He was smooth. He was charming. He said he was a doctor.

While the majority of online daters are looking for a relationship and a true connection, we still wonder in shock about the few profiles that could be from actual scammers.

Consumer Reports did an online dating survey showing that 12 percent of the singles interviewed believed they were conned. This goes past the fibs of a few pounds, shorter height, or stating a younger age to fit into a search.

RELATED: An Expose Into The Sad, SCARY World Of Tinder And Online Dating

As an online dating expert and coach, I’ve been helping singles find love online for 23 years and have made it my mission to help singles date safely and spot the red flags in a profile, before opening their hearts and wallets.

Dating sites also take safety seriously, providing both dating safety tips and a way for you to report a suspicious profile. We’re here to help.

For me, over two decades ago at a vulnerable point in my life, I personally fell for a married man I never met who pretended to be single and got involved with another who falsely claimed he was an architect. With these experiences, I learned quickly how to spot these red flags in profiles.

While I chronicled these stories in my book, The Perils of Cyber-Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking for Love Online, I’m happy to say the majority of dates were actually good or funny and there was a romantic happy ending to the story.

Before you fall in love with someone who’s wooing you online, here are some online dating scams I’ve seen over the years. Get ready to open your eyes and watch your keyboard:

1. Sweetheart Scam 

While hearing those three little words of "I love you" is something we all desire, when someone professes their love before you’ve even met them and has told you they’ve never felt this way before, it’s time to take pause.

Until you’ve met in real life, you only have a digital penpal. Often, they will rush for a commitment right away or ask for money at some point, because, well if you’re in love, you’d give them your last dime, right?

Watch how this woman caught an online dating scammer.


How to avoid it: If your online love won’t meet you in person, take a pass. Find someone who’s available who wants to meet you and have a relationship. Continue to date multiple people before putting all your eggs in this person’s digital love basket.

2. Military Scam

Who doesn’t love a guy in a uniform? Guys who are protecting our country overseas can be sexy partners. This long-distance romance can easily blossom as you count down the days until you can be in each others’ arms.

The problem is, he keeps getting reassigned and has no intention of meeting you. It’s just a matter of time before they need you to fund their airline ticket to visit you. Don’t.

How to avoid it: Take your military guy’s photo and put it into a Google image reverse search or on Tin Eye. You might easily find out the picture belongs to someone of a different name. The person might even be dead. So should your attachment to the scammer.

3. Widow’s Scam

When crafting a dating profile or a social media profile on Facebook, I discourage singles from stating their relationship status as widowed. A scammer targeting someone who has lost a spouse or partner to death is a huge target.

You’re sad. You’re vulnerable. You may have even inherited some money. Suddenly someone else contacts you and explains they know exactly how you feel. They’re going through it as well. They lost their partner too. You bond instantly.

How to avoid it: Keep your relationship status as "single". Don’t mention in your profile’s bio that you were happily married and lost your spouse to cancer recently.

If you do meet, don’t be shy in doing a background check on this person. They may have financial problems and are looking for you to fund their lifestyle. Ask which bereavement groups they have gone to and take it slow.

RELATED: 6 Ways You Can Weed Out The Weirdos While Online Dating

4. Foreigner's Scam

Having a boyfriend who lives in a foreign country might sound romantic, but before you open your Passport, check his or her punctuation and grammar very carefully. If your online sweetheart uses poor grammar, such as "i" instead of "I", or "your" instead of "you’re", it’s a reason to raise a digital eyebrow.

Often, they will immediately ask you to leave the site and provide a Gmail or Hotmail account because they’re canceling their membership as an initial message. Don’t believe it. They could be from Nigeria or other countries that are known for initiating web-based scams.

How to avoid it: If you have a high school or college degree, chances are you’ve had to take spelling and punctuation tests. Someone from another country won’t know how to speak proper English. Stay on the site for safety before you exchange digits. Ask them to chat with you on Facetime or Skype to hear the sound of their voice.

5. Catfishing Scam

You’ve watched Catfish on TV and don’t think this can happen to you. A catfishing scam is where someone sincerely wants to get to know you, but are hiding who they really are.

Perhaps it’s a woman pretending to be a man or vice versa. It’s usually someone who wants to chat a lot on Facebook messenger or WhatsApp, and promises to meet you, their soulmate. They might be sad or lonely, but the photos they’ve sent you have been taken from the Internet of someone more attractive.

How to avoid it: Meeting in real life is everything. If you have that digital penpal I mentioned earlier, you’re not really in a relationship. It’s a fantasy relationship because you’re lonely and are craving love so badly, that you get seduced by the affectionate words of a suitor.

Don’t wait three months or three years to meet someone. Ask to see photos of their family and their home

If any of these scams happen to you, report the profile to the dating site or social media site that you met the person on. Never give out financial information. Even if their parents are in the hospital, don’t offer to pay for their medical bills.

Sometimes being a cyber-sleuth will prevent you from the heartbreak that you wouldn’t want to happen to your best friend. Trust your intuition.

Wishing you much love and joy in cyberspace, or wherever you may swipe or roam.

Julie Spira is America's Top Online Dating Expert and Digital Matchmaker. She's a bestseller author and was an early adopter of Internet dating and has been coaching singles on finding love online for over 20 years. Follow @JulieSpira on Twitter and Instagram for dating advice and sign up for the FREE Weekly Flirt for dating advice delivered to your inbox.