Updated: Jun 23
When Patrick* messaged me mere minutes after I liked one of his photos, I knew something was off. It’s never been that easy. Usually, it took at least an hour or two for a guy to see the notification. Three minutes? And from a guy who is conventionally attractive?
My Spidey Senses tingling, we exchanged a couple of messages and I inquired if he lived in Manhattan. He said yes.
“What part?” I asked. “I’m on the Upper East Side.”
“I told you. I live in Manhattan.”
Someone who lived in Manhattan would have known how to correctly answer that question. Upper West Side? Chelsea? Tribeca? This guy didn’t know the commonly referred to sections of the city or that they even existed. Three strikes and you’re out.
As I tell my clients, scammers are constantly educating themselves on the various traps laid out for them. They know what we look for, which is why you can’t necessarily rely upon their bad grammar, claims to be in the military or widowed, or they’re refusal to video chat to deem them a fraud. With each app update, their ruses are becoming more sophisticated. Even so, there are a few things you can still look for if you think a match is a fake.
They don’t understand cultural references
Don, a Hinge match, used his first and last name on his profile. (I’ll explain why that’s suspect in a minute.) Like Patrick, he responded immediately to my first message. In my second message to him, I revealed I had just finished watching the movie Scream.
He’d never heard of it.
What fifty-something man from Ohio has never heard of the movie Scream? Aside from being a cultural phenomenon it inspired a franchise of three additional films. At no time in ten years did this guy hear of the movie Scream? That, along with the quick response and the stilted conversation style, were enough for me to unmatch and report him.
They try to get you to communicate off the app as quickly as possible
“Hey,” Mitch said in his message. “I don’t check this app often. Send me a text.”
He proceeded to pass along his phone number. Mitch was a forty-seven year old man with photos of a guy who couldn’t have been more than late-thirties. He was also impossibly attractive. After decades of dating online, I know the types of men that find me attractive. A J-Crew model-looking hunk several years my junior isn’t it. When he gave me his phone number in his very first message, I took a screen shot of his email, unmatched and reported him.
The goal of most scammers is to move their target to an unmonitored communication platform. For all their downsides, many dating apps do employ tracking software that scans messages for certain language and phrases. A scammer is less likely to get caught if they use a personal email address or phone number of one of their plethora of burner (aka fake) accounts.
They ask too many personal questions
Garlic is to a vampire what a support system is to a scammer. Their ideal victim is someone vulnerable and isolated. That way, the person is easier to manipulate. If a new match starts asking all about your family, friends or children, be careful. They’re trying to suss out if you have confidants who might warn you you’re being catfished or worse.
There’s an even darker reason they show so much interest: they want to build a false sense of familiarity so you’ll open up to them. Armed with these private admissions, they can threaten public exposure if you don’t give them what they want.
If you mention a recent split, how your children are about to leave for college or any kind of loss or health issue in your profile, remove them ASAP. These life situations are exactly what someone trying to con their way into someone’s life are looking for. That’s why scammers predominately target women over forty. They assume we’re lonely empty-nesters and are therefore easier to woo.
They give their full name right away
A few months back, a woman emailed me through Meetup.com to ask if I’d heard anything about a man she’d been messaging. Was she being catfished? She sent me a link to his profile. The photo was staged in a way that it could have been professionally taken but not so much so that it was obvious. What confirmed my suspicion he was a fake was the one thing that most people probably overlook.
He gave his full first and last name, just like my aforementioned matches, Patrick and Don. I replied to the woman who’d emailed me and told her I thought the profile was a scammer. When she asked why, I told her about my experience on Hinge. Using their first and last name is a way to pre-emptively gain trust. Scammers know what someone will do if given enough bread crumbs. They’ll head straight to their closest search engine, type in that name, and head down the rabbit hole of their match’s life. Lucky for the scammer, they’ve done their research. They know all about reverse image search and the myriad of ways to do recon on an online date. They’ve studied everything there is to know about the person whose identity they’ve stolen — jobs, sibling’s names, favorite vacation spots. That way, their profile details will line up with what their matches find online.
I also pointed out one additional red flag: she suspected he was fraud. That, more than anything else, is confirmation enough to extricate yourself from the conversation.
A few quick take-aways
2. In 2019, unsuspecting singles were robbed of over 200 million dollars by romance scammers. According to the FTC, that’s six times the amount of money stolen since 2015.
3. Be careful of which social media accounts you link to your dating profile. A few dating apps encourage users to link to their Instagram or Spotify account. If you choose to do this, create an Instagram profile specifically for linking to your dating apps. That way, you can curate your profile more stringently by uploading posts that do not give away your full name, address, favorite hangouts, etc.
4. Scammers typically come with a cluster of red flags. Don’t write someone off just because they don’t understand a pop culture reference or respond too quickly. Stay alert during message exchanges. If more than one red flag pops up, you’re probably talking to a scammer.
5. Most importantly, try not to get overly-paranoid. The unfortunate reality is your chances of interacting with a romance scammer are at almost one hundred percent. They’re everywhere. If a woman creates any kind of public social networking-related profile, she will most certainly be contacted by a scammer at some point. That doesn’t mean every person you match with online needs to be run through a database or otherwise investigated. If you feel compelled to research someone beyond a cursory Google search, your gut is telling you something isn’t right.
Listen to it.