Online dating - how to stay safe online
Online dating is a great way to meet people; however, not everyone is genuine. There are scammers who use dating sites to target people and trick them out of money or cause them harm. Scammers also use social networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype), text messages and email.
Scammers are experienced at tricking people of all ages, background and sexualities (even highly intelligent, well-educated, confident internet users).
Here are some steps that may help you stay safe when dating online:
Step 1: Screen every profile image using a reverse online image search
Why is this a good idea?
Scammers steal photographs of real people to create realistic profiles. Reverse image searches of profile pictures can help you spot the difference between a genuine and a fake profile – it can also confirm if the image has been used before in a scam.
How to do it
You can use Google’s reverse online image search of photos, and if the suspect profile photo appears under different names, you may have caught yourself a scammer.
On a computer or device:
- Open a web browser, like Chrome or Firefox
- Go to Google Images
- Click Search by image
- Click Upload an image
- Choose file or Browse
- Select a picture from your computer
- Click Open or Choose.
Visit Google Search Help for more advice on doing an online reverse image search.
Other online image search tools and apps you can use include*:
* Suggested by Professor Monica Whitty, cyber psychologist at the University of Melbourne.
Step 2: Do some further screening of the profile
The reverse image check might still have missed the scammer profile. Take your time and look for the following:
- Be suspicious if they have an unusually attractive job. Jobs in the military, engineering or modelling are often used in scam profiles.
- Be suspicious of male profiles who claim to be widowed with one child – profiles with these types of attributes are used by romance scammers.
- Does their description make full sense? If they say they’re fluent in English, does it read like they are?
- Is their story consistent? For example, does their photograph reflect the age they say they are? Is the person consistent in what they say about their job description on their profile?
- Is there an email in the description? Scammers will try to take the conversations away from the dating website. For your protection, dating sites discourage personal email addresses on profiles.
- Be suspicious of profiles which use the phrase ‘God fearing’ and overuse phrases such as trustworthy and honest. These are phrases heavily used by dating scammers.
- Scammers often write ‘Am’ or ‘AM’ instead of ‘I am.’ For example, “Am Michael, Am 55, AM Engineer.”
If you are suspicious of the profile (even if it is a ‘gut feeling’), report it immediately to the dating site for checking.
You can also report the person to ReportCyber.
Step 3: Limit the time you spend getting to know the person online
Try to meet in person within a reasonable timeframe (a couple of weeks). If you’re using a dating site, communicate via the website only.
Scammers use online communication to draw victims closer, to gain their trust and develop the relationship. Stay on the dating site to communicate with your potential date until you decide you’re ready to meet face-to-face. Resist talking to your prospective date via email. Often scammer profiles do not stay on the dating site for long. Scammers will continue the relationship via email, and if you’ve let them know your email address, they can potentially still contact you after they’ve left the dating site (for emailing you malware or providing to other scammers to target you).
If the person you are talking to requests a webcam chat, be very careful. Scammers can record webcam sessions and use it to blackmail you if the footage contains compromising images or information. If the conversation starts to take an uncomfortable turn, it is okay to STOP and disconnect the chat.
Step 4: Do not give out personal details
This includes your email, where you work, mobile number, surname, or linking the person to your social networking profiles like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn (for example). You can set up a free Google Voice account, which will generate a separate phone number and forward it to your mobile. If the person is a scammer or things fizzle out, the other person won’t have your real phone number.
Step 5: Organise a face-to-face meeting within the first few weeks
If the person offers excuses for why they cannot meet you, be very suspicious. For example, scammers often say they are working overseas or have to travel for work urgently, or there’s a crisis. If they’re not willing to meet in the early stages of getting to know you – then move on.
Step 6: If you slip up and do not follow this advice, then end the relationship NOW
Don’t send money to anyone you have met online – no matter how genuine they might seem. If you’ve started sending money, stop immediately – you will never have the money repaid. If any amounts are sent back to you, this could be from another victim’s account and you might be acting as a money mule and involved in a crime called money laundering.
If you suspect you’ve been scammed
If you’ve been the victim of a romance scam, you need to take the following steps straight away. There is a high probability that if the scammer has your details they will sell them online to other scammers, who may target you again for another scam.
- Change your mobile number.
- Change your email address/es.
- Install anti-virus software on all your devices and use it to scan for malware and viruses.
- Update your passwords. Make sure you have a different password for every account and where possible use two-factor authentication.
- Report it to ReportCyber to help warn others in the community.
Find out more about help available.
Step 7: Meet up face-to-face – in a safe public place, limiting the time and telling a friend/family member about the meeting
Take your time in talking about yourself! When you’re excited about meeting someone new, strong feelings can outweigh your instincts. Until you get to know someone, limit how much you tell them about yourself:
- You could tell them the general region you live in, but not your specific address or phone number.
- Talk about what industry you work in, but not your exact workplace or how much you earn.
- Tell them what you enjoy doing with friends and family, but don’t give out their names.