Could your online date be a scammer? How to avoid getting caught up in a bad romance

12 Min Read


With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, here’s some timely advice on how to stop scammers from stealing more than just your heart

romance scams

Online dating has revolutionized the way people connect and find love. Now each of us can browse an online catalog of potential love interests in the palm of our hands – no more awful chats in bars or awkward ‘friend-of-a-friend’ double dates.

Not less than In 2022, 350 million people used dating apps. Not only are these apps an easy way to share your dating profile with others, but they also provide plenty of opportunities for scammers and hackers to take advantage of unsuspecting singles. The popularity of dating apps and social media has made it easier than ever for fake suitors to find and trick their money.

The scenario where, instead of finding love, lonely hearts end up with financial and emotional loss is more common than you might think. a report from the US Federal Trade Commission has found that romance scams will cost nearly 70,000 people as much as $1.3 billion by 2022. However, this still doesn’t paint the whole picture, as many victims of dating fraud feel too ashamed to come forward.

Complicating matters further, many romance fraud victims have also become unwitting money mules. As evidenced by the intersection between romance and crypto fraud known as pig slaughter fraud (as well as the sugar daddy fraud), fraudsters are constantly adding new ingredients to tried and tested recipes. And in yet another twist on dating fraud, scammers are increasingly willing to co-opt generative AI tools as wingman to make their ruse more convincing, including pretend to be someone like Kevin Costner.

So if you’re looking for a romantic relationship online (but AI companionship isn’t really your thing), what can you do to protect yourself from matches you mistakenly think is the love of your life? How do romance scammers and other threats lurking on dating apps work?

1. Catfishing: creating false identities

One of the most common tactics used by scammers on dating apps is catfishing: creating fake profiles with the intention of tricking their match into thinking they are someone else. These scammers often use stolen or stock photos and fabricated personal information to lure unsuspecting victims. There are many websites that use AI image generation to create photos of real-looking people (which, as you may have guessed, don’t exist) that scammers can use to create a realistic persona online.

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The scammer would then use this persona to connect to unsuspecting profiles, send messages, and filter out viable targets. Once they determine if their pen pal can give them what they want, they will do their very best to build trust and make them think they are in a real relationship.

From that trust, the scammer can then exploit the victim financially, using made-up stories about personal crises and fake emergencies with requests for money. The poor, beloved victim may send money, buy them gifts, or even book trips in the hopes of supporting their “partner” and making their dreams of true romance come true.

And don’t be fooled: criminals do their research and can appear as authentic as any other profile on the market. They may take to social media to learn about their target’s hobbies, beliefs, and habits, using this information to create the illusion of common interests, creating an even stronger bond. This bond then gives them more power for emotional manipulation.

How can you protect yourself from catfish?

It sounds simple, but when you’re lost in romance, making sure the person you’re talking to is real may not be your first thought. Whether that’s checking a little social media, meeting in person, asking questions that require specific knowledge, or asking for ID – all of these will give you the peace of mind that tanned Caroline from Ohio really is the tanned Caroline from Ohio, not mousy Clive from Seattle.

Glad they are who they say they are? Always be suspicious if they ask for money, favors or valuable information. They may be real people, but their intentions may not be. Far too often, online daters have fallen for fake sob stories that their online crush needs money to pay their sick relative’s medical bills, that their fledgling business isn’t going as well as they hoped, or that they should take advantage of a one-time investment opportunity.

Would you take the bait?

2. Phishing attacks and malware distribution

As an online platform, dating apps provide an easy gateway to phishing attacks and the spread of malware. Criminals can create profiles and send seemingly innocent messages with malicious links or attachments, tricking hopeful singles into clicking on them. They can use bots to do this on a mass level and once clicked, these links lead to the installation of malware on the victim’s device. Once malware is installed, any personal information or data stored on the device is compromised, vastly increasing the risk of identity theft and credit card fraud.

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How can you protect yourself?

In the early stages of a conversation, before you’ve learned a bit more about your match, don’t open or click on any links they send. Even if it seems like an innocent link to an enthusiastic restaurant you mention in your profile, scammers can get creative with their domain names to make the links seem even more enticing and authentic. Wait a while until you’re sure you trust your match before exploring link sharing and exploring the realms of the internet together.

3. Data collection for blackmail

Online dating platforms store a lot of personal information, making them attractive targets for hackers. a Guardian journalist discovered it that the app collected about 800 pages of data about her through her Tinder profile, including likes, interests, photos, friends and romantic preferences.

Scammers can use tactics like data mining to extract these sensitive details from people’s profiles. Also, incidents of such information being made public are not unheard of. For example, 260,000 people had their images and private chat logs made public after a publicly accessible database for a dating app was released. appeared to be visible to the public last year.

How can you protect yourself?

Nowadays it is often a trade-off. Many apps need access to some of your data to provide you with the required functionality and experience. However, it is important to know what data is collected and how it is used. Consider staying away from apps that don’t let you opt out of data sharing with third parties.

Additionally, keep in mind that once you get the information out there, there isn’t much that can be done. So the best thing you can do is be careful about what you share online. Don’t post or delete anything that could be used against you (those cringe videos you took at a friend’s bachelor party in Vegas may come back to haunt you in other ways than you might think).

This can take an even uglier turn (and end up being a huge payday for the scammer) if you give in to the temptation to send your racy photos or videos to your love interest. This mainly happens to younger people and often starts with the fake suitor sharing “their own” explicit photos and asking for similar photos from their brands in return. If you are willing to do that, the blackmail begins – so will the fraudster threaten to share the material with your social media contacts unless you pay or send more compromising photos or videos.

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To avoid sextortion, never hand over photos that you would be embarrassed to publish online. For the same reason: don’t share sexual images or pose nude on the webcam.

4. Location-based threats

Many dating apps use location-based services to connect with other hopeful singles nearby. While this feature makes it easier for people to find potential matches nearby, it also opens the door to potential threats. Hackers can misuse location data to track and target individuals, leading to real security concerns.

How can you protect yourself?

Okay, let’s assume you don’t want to turn off location services on your online dating journey because you want to match with someone down the street, and not on the other side of the world. A compromise might be to disable location services when you’re not actively swiping or browsing matches. Doing this removes that extra bit of vulnerability that makes you a more attractive target for netizens with bad intentions, when all you should really be focusing on is being a more attractive target for romance.


As the popularity of online dating continues to grow (it is expected it will). more than 450 million users in 2028), so does the risk of becoming the target of scams and hacks. For those navigating the online dating world, suspicious links and uncertainty about your match’s true identity should be at the top of your list of warning signs (maybe even above “doesn’t like dogs”).

If anything seems unusual or ‘not quite right’, immediately report and block your match. But it’s not all doom and gloom, it’s over 70% of those who date online report finding a romantic relationship, it’s clear that online dating can be extremely successful! So we all need to work together to make the platforms as safe and enjoyable as possible. Who knows, your true love might be just a swipe away…

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