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Avoiding online dating scams

By Danielle van Wyk

Online dating has grown in popularity over the last few years and with the introduction of the likes of Tinder, it has become a socially accepted way to meet new people. A recent Statistics Brain online dating survey revealed that over 49 million people in the States alone have ventured into online dating. Though there is no doubt that online dating can be a fun way to meet your perfect match, there is also the risk of falling victim to cybercriminals. 

“This Women’s month, SABRIC, South African Banking Risk Information Centre, as part of its Schemes and Scams Campaign, alerts women to online dating scams,” stated SABRIC. 

With the rise in ‘romance scams’ of late being both worrying and very difficult to curb, dating site users are increasingly being targeted. 

“The modus operandi exploits the emotions of the victim who believes that they are in a romantic relationship with someone who allegedly cares for them.  Such communications are usually confidential and very personal and victims are often too embarrassed to publicly admit to being manipulated and ultimately defrauded,” said Kalyani Pillay, CEO of SABRIC.

Sadly, even when banks are able to detect that a victim is about to make a payment based on false pretenses, these victims often insist on proceeding as they do not accept that they are being defrauded, added Pillay.

Scams are also becoming increasingly sophisticated so users are more easily conned out of their money. The finesse of these organised criminals in conjunction with the emotional vulnerability of these users make executing these scams seamless. 

“These crimes are considered low risk with high reward by the perpetrators and because they do not intend meeting their victims, can be executed from anywhere on the globe. They target victims, identified mostly through social media platforms, who appear to be affluent” explained Pillay. 

Seamsters typically target middle aged or elderly widows or divorcees that have access to large amounts of cash. 

This sort of information is also readily available through  Facebook and Instagram because people often don’t use the correct security measures. 

“Sourcing information from online dating sites is also relatively easy because these victims usually share very freely in the hope of finding a romantic partner. It is important to note that whilst many victims have been female, men have also been duped with romance or online dating scams,” Pillay stated. 

For majority of these instances, relationships were formed before the criminal proceeded to take advantage. 

SABRIC outlined the following as potential red flags: 

-Unsolicited communications from strangers on Facebook or WhatsApp who want to get to know you better, are best ignored. 

- Invitations to befriend you on Facebook or sites like LinkedIn from strangers whose own profiles have very little information should be treated with added suspicion.

- Requests for financial assistance from people that you have recently befriended online should not be entertained.

-Take care to always verify information before you act on it.

-Do not publicizse your bank account details to third parties that you have not met.

-Set the privacy settings on your social media platforms at the strictest possible level 

-Be aware of how much personal information you share on social media sites

-Beware of people who have unusual jobs. The most common scams involve people allegedly working in the army, navy, air force, United Nations and other jobs that require travelling.

-Be on the lookout for inconsistencies in communications. Syndicates often have a number of people manning their online dating sites so you could possibly be chatting to two or three different people.

-Be wary of people who make promises to meet up but always cancel at the last minute and don’t give such a person money, to come to visit you.

-Should you arrange a meeting with someone you have met online, ensure that you do so in a public area and possibly with friends.

-Very importantly, should you suspect that a scammer is targeting you, stop all communications immediately and report it to the online dating service or social media platform.

 ‘If you have been the victim of a romance scam and defrauded in the process, report the matter to the police,” SABRIC added. 

The organisation has further launched a campaign in aid of creating awareness around online scams called, #Skelm: Wise Up. Watch Out.

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