Updated: August 12, 2022
If it weren’t for online dating, most of my generation would be single. Tinder, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish are all standard apps you’d expect to see on a single person’s smartphone. Subscriptions to dating sites are no longer taboo. Now, having your own ‘oh, we met on the internet’ story is just as romantic as meeting IRL (in real life). Antrust d perhaps, in 2017, the same goes for much of mature dating too, with sites such as Ourtime, eHarmony and our own Telegraph Dating proving a hit with older daters.
But online dating is still a relatively fresh terrain for many. It means that newcomers are often unaware of some glaring pitfalls.
Only this week, an Arizona man was arrested for scamming women out of thousands of dollars after posing as a stockbroker online, and last week West Sussex County Council released a warning to residents about scams online in the UK. Though online dating can be a safe and regulated environment if used with care, there are still multiple cases of scamming and catfishing that make the news on a regular basis.
This fraud is becoming more and more common. And there are ways we can all be tricked – even those who think they’re clued up about online dating. My friends tell stories of guys who ended up already having girlfriends, and – the most common – those who promise relationships, but leave after just one night.
So what are the signs you should look out for? Here are some clues to help you avoid online dating trickery. If the guy you like is guilty of any of these, they’re probably not to be trusted.
6 signs that your online date can’t be trusted
1) He calls you ‘baby’
If you meet someone online and within a few messages they’re telling you how much you mean to them, and how they love you to bits: stay away. This is not a modern day version of love at first sight (of your profile pic) – it’s a sign that they’re a bit of a creep.
You might be thinking that there’s a chance you have a real connection. But if that’s really the case, it won’t be because of their fake flattery and hyperbole. In simple terms, when they start saying, “Since you came into my life baby, I have looked forward to each sunshine” – as the fake ‘James Richards’ did – you should think again.
2) His profile pic looks a lot like Kit Harington
This is not a miracle – you have not found a younger, real version of Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. Instead, the person you’re messaging has just stolen a picture off the internet of the most ‘normal’ looking celeb he could find.
If you’re in doubt, save the picture onto your computer and then drag it into Google. You can do an image search for it. And if he really does look like Harington? Nothing will come up bar his Facebook page.
3) He says he earns over £1m a year
Most dating sites have columns where you fill in your basic details and there is an option to put down your salary. Personally, I don’t trust anyone who fills this in at all. But you really need to be concerned when someone says they earn over a million a year. Especially if they then don’t offer any more info on what they do.
Sadly, they’re probably not a millionaire. If they were, they’d be doing anything to try and avoid strangers taking advantage of their wealth, or being judged because of it. They would not likely be holding a metaphorical sign saying ‘come and date me for my dollar’.
Oh, and if he ever asks you for money – say £170,000? Report him to the website.
4) He’s posing with a tiger
This is so common that it even sparked a Tumblr dedicated to ‘Tigers of Tinder’. The general idea is that we chicks dig travel and danger. So if a man wants to attract a girl, all he has to do is demonstrate that in his profile pic, right? And what better way to do it than with a tiger?
It does suggest that he’s trying to overcompensate. Why does he have to go to such (extreme) lengths to try to attract women? And doesn’t he know he’s part of a trend that everyone is laughing at?
5) He’s taking topless selfies
Anyone who uses a picture of their naked torso to advertise themselves as a potential mate is, in my book, not to be trusted – especially if it’s taken as a mirror selfie with the flash covering up their face. They might be hoping you’ll be so distracted by their abs you won’t notice.
Also, if he’s prepared to post a half naked picture in the public domain – just imagine what you might be sent in private.
6) He can’t spell
This is not just me being a snob. As much as it irritates me if someone gets ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ wrong, it’s not the end of the world. What is, however, is if every single word they use is spelt incorrectly.
In this day and age we all have autocorrect on our phones, tablets and laptops. So why don’t they? Why haven’t they bothered to use it? What’s wrong with them?!
Just look at ‘James Richards” spelling and grammar: “The early mourning with you in my arms, the midnight skies with us beneath a billion stars, moves me.”
According to the latest surveys, 11% of Americans say they have looked online for love. But that doesn’t mean that daters are happy with what they find.
In the latest Pew Research Center’s online-dating and relationships poll — the group’s first look at digital dating since its last survey in 2005 — people’s mistrust about their online partners emerged as their biggest concern with computerized matching services. More than half of online daters felt that at least one of their matches misrepresented himself or herself — in other words, that the match lied about his or her likes, dislikes, personality traits and even appearance.
“One guy I went on a date with used pictures of himself that were from about seven years ago,” Maggie Klimentova, a New Yorker who used (and eventually met her boyfriend on) OkCupid, says of her online-dating experience. “When I actually met him, he was 4 inches shorter than me and balding.”
And yet despite rampant misinformation, more people than ever are logging onto dating sites, thanks to a decline in the stigma of digital dating over the past eight years. Now, 38% of singles who are “looking for a partner” use a dating site or app.
And, according to the Pew poll, more daters expect that the people they meet on the site will lie about themselves. Faking any part of an online-dating profile, however, may be a shortsighted strategy. Sure, you may get the attention you want initially, but eventually a match is bound to discover your lies. And even if the lies aren’t immediately discoverable — such as not being truthful about previous marriages or a desire to have children, for example — those types of lies can do long-term damage to a relationship, says clinical psychologist and relationship expert Michelle Golland. “People think that it’s something they won’t have to worry about, but it is a huge problem that’s harder to overcome later in the relationship,” she says.
So why do people do it? And more important, if so many online-dating users assume people are garnishing their profiles in some way, why do they continue to look for relationships on these sites? Golland says it’s easy to understand why people fib online: “Unless you’re a sociopath, it’s generally easier to lie on a profile than it is to lie to someone’s face.”
For some, lying may also seem like the only option for finding dates. “People who lie on their profiles fear that they’re not worthy and may never have a relationship because of their job or how they look,” she says.
That can lead to a desperation with serious consequences; 42% of women who used online dating felt that they were harassed or contacted in a way that made them feel uncomfortable, according to the poll. Klimentova says her bad date harassed her online for weeks.
Understanding why people still find digital dating appealing, despite its shortcomings, is a little more complicated. For one, having more options may be a benefit when it comes to finding a match. “I think having a lot of options is a good thing,” says Golland. Some studies have found that the plethora of candidates online skews relationships toward the shallow side, since people have an instinctive tendency to shop around and not invest time or effort into each choice when there are so many to consider. And 32% of Internet users agreed that “online dating keeps people from settling down because they always have options for people to date.”
But Golland believes that people will stop dating if they feel they have found the one for them. “When you do, you’ll stop. You won’t want to keep dating,” she says. And you certainly won’t want the other person to keep dating.” She could be right. As the poll showed, people are starting to believe that the hazards of online dating are worth the trouble: 5% of married and serious couples in the U.S., and 11% of couples who started dating in the past 10 years, met through online dating.
Is online dating safe?
Internet dating can be a great way to meet new people – and possibly find ‘the one’ – but it’s important to keep your wits about you and protect your own privacy and safety, first and foremost.
How to stay safe on online dating sites
Before you sign up for an online dating service, consider the following:
- Read terms and conditions so you know what you’re signing up to and how much it will cost.
- Set reminders in your phone or diary to cancel your subscription to avoid inadvertently rolling over for a further term.
- Never include personal information such as your real name, workplace, work or home address, phone number or birthday, in your profile.
- Do a reverse Google image search on photos of profiles of people you’re interested in to check for authenticity.
- When you meet somebody for the first time, pick a public place, tell a friend where you’re going and keep the first meeting brief and inexpensive, such as grabbing a cup of coffee.
- Don’t let somebody new pick you up or drop you at your home.
- Never send money to someone you’ve only ever contacted online or over the phone
Watch out for online dating site scams
According to Scamwatch, almost 90% of scam reports relating to dating and romance occurred through the internet or mobile apps. In 2019 alone, Australians lost almost $27 million to dating scams – although it could be even more as many people are too embarrassed to report losses.
The ACCC reports that they received 3640 complaints about dating and romance scams in 2019, with women losing more than twice as much money as men. People aged 45+ are the most likely to be targeted.
Social media is where many people get stung, with $9.2 million in losses attributed to dating and romance scams conducted via social media – an increase of over 20% compared to 2016.
Popular scams include convincing users to part with their personal details or money, which is often sent overseas and is unrecoverable.
“Scammers go to great lengths to gain your trust, spending months and even years building a relationship with you. Once your defences are lowered, they spin an elaborate tale about how they need your financial help with a crisis, such as being ill or stranded, and ask for money,” says ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard.
“These scams can also pose a risk to your personal safety, as scammers are often part of international criminal networks. Scammers have lured unwitting Australian victims overseas, putting people in dangerous situations that can have tragic consequences.”
In the absence of hard data, it’s anecdotes that shape the conversation about online dating safety.
In 2016 Stephen Port was convicted in the UK of killing four young men he met on the gay dating app Grindr. In 2011 Match.com began screening US members against a database of known sex offenders, after a woman who said she had been raped brought a class-action lawsuit against the site. In the UK, Match was also implicated in the case of serial rapist Jason Lawrence, who in 2016 was convicted of raping or assaulting seven women he met on the site, after contacting thousands.
Not all countries in which sites operate have databases such as Match’s, however, and even those that exist tend to have incomplete data. Gregory Dickson, the judge in the Jason Lawrence case, used his in-court comments to call for a system of “automatic referral to the police,” or another agency, when complaints are made to dating companies. Women had flagged Lawrence to the site, but no single entity had been able to “join the dots” and prevent crimes taking place, he said.
Match.com didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment. In an article in 2013 for Consumers Digest, Mandy Ginsberg, Match’s CEO, is quoted as saying: ”Match.com is no different than society. If you go out to a bar and meet someone that you don’t know, you should be careful.”
But those who want to see the industry do more point out that online dating is different from society in one important sense: Users are paying to be there. Annual revenue from dating apps is $3 billion in the US alone.