The world of dating has never been more gratifying – or terrifying – than it is today…

Goodbye cupid. Hello Tinder, Zoosk, Elite Singles, c.date, badoo and many more.

The world of dating has never been more gratifying – or terrifying – than it is today. And with a buffet of online dating sites it’s no wonder women and men across South Africa are clicking, swiping, messaging and hooking up in the hope of finding their perfect match.

Snuff out scammers

We’ve all read the freaky headlines, ‘Online dating scammer cons au pair of R120 000’, ‘Pretoria PA under administration after losing R300 000 on a popular dating site’, ‘Mom scared to look for love online after a scammer targeted her on a Christian dating site’, ‘Preacher man defrauds KZN woman of around R170 000 before she realised he was not who he claimed to be’.

And who can forget the Internet fraud syndicate operating out of Pretoria that stole over R70 million from hundreds of women over six years, with a Nigerian man posing as a US soldier to win the hearts of his lonely victims. The cyber scam network was set up by a group of Nigerians in 2009, which ran romance and credit card-related scams. One victim even waited at an airport, in her wedding dress, along with her pastor, for her future hubby, who she believed was a US soldier stationed in South Africa. The pair talked online for eight months after meeting on an online dating site, during which time she made several money transfers to him.

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Scammers are very much alive in ‘real life’ and the world of online dating is no different

While sharing details about your life is all part of finding love, extra caution is needed when it comes to the virtual dating realm.

One of the most important nuggets of advice is to never, ever, send money to a person you do not know. You should be extremely cautious when a potential partner, whom you have only met online, asks you to help him or her financially. The stories they tell you may be heartbreaking and believable but until you meet the person face to face and develop trust over a long period of time, it is best to assume those stories are fictional. These people are professionals who call on your compassion and generosity  by creating dramatic stories of tragic personal events, often involving diseases, accidents or other sad happenings.

So before you decide to financially support a person you do not know, you should consult with a close friend, a family member or a lawyer. Usually outsiders have a more objective view.

Beware of the ‘serviceman’

Think Jude Law in Cold Mountain. Think George Clooney in Three Kings. Think Brad Pitt in Inglorious Bastards. It’s easy to swoon over the uber sexy, courageous and adventurer ‘serviceman’. The air force pilot, the military soldier, the veteran war surgeon, the fireman, the policeman. By far one of the most successful online dating scams involves service members, well, not real ones but people pretending to be them.

Once hackers throw in a photo of a serviceman – and all the fantasies associated with a strong, brave person far away across the world – it’s an easy sell.

Wowzer!

In 2011, the Internet Crime Complaint Centre estimated that the online dating scamming “industry” was worth over R50 million, but it’s likely much higher than that, due to the difficulty of making a good estimate. People are often ashamed to come forward and admit that they’ve been duped. It’s not a good feeling to have been taken advantage of, and a scheme that’s so obvious in hindsight is even harder to admit to.

 Look out for red flags

  • Scammers often list themselves as widowed (especially with a child), self-employed, or working overseas. They might also say that they live near you, but that they’re away; they could be in another country on a trip or for work, but they’ll almost certainly be somewhere far away where you can’t meet them.
  • Scammers will often ask you to communicate with them outside of the dating site – via email, through Facebook, or even on Skype. These methods give them better access to you and can help them gather additional information that they can use to con you.
  • A clear warning bell should go off when they try to avoid a physical meeting and when they constantly cancel or refuse to meet in public places.
  • Notably poor grammar could be a warning sign that your potential flame is actually a Nigerian scammer! A common indicator is a dramatic change in grammar or spelling as the relationship progresses.
  • Most of the time, you can spot an online dating scammer by trusting your instincts – if something looks off, be extra wary.

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