Online dating scams are booming - with £27 million lost to them in a single year. If you're going to stay safe from the scams, its worth knowing how they tend to work - and how to spot them.
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Stage 1. Fake profiles
The scammer will set up an entirely fabricated profile - designed to get you hooked. Match.com has analysed these fake profiles and spotted some early warning signs. They will use a combination of words like 'honest' and 'trustworthy'. They will also describe themselves as loving and caring. They will use overly romantic phrases like: 'walking down the beach holding hands'. And they may describe themselves as a simple person. Their job will often require them to be overseas - such as a pilot or a soldier, and they might have a tragic past - such as losing a husband or wife. Their photo will - of course - be unusually attractive.
Stage 2. Getting to know you
The scammers are interested in a quick result, so they will set up a whirlwind romance. They will be overcome with love and affection - despite the fact you have never met. They will, of course, be good at coming up with excuses why you cannot meet, and will effectively dodge questions about themselves - while getting you to open up as much as possible. They are also likely to start using a term of endearment fairly early on - because it's easier for them to remember one nickname than try to remember the names of everyone they are scamming.
They may claim it's their last day on the site, or that they want to concentrate on you so they're not bombarded with messages. Whatever the excuse, they'll get you off the site and exchanging email addresses.
Stage 4. Getting money out of you
There are a couple of versions of this. Some will get you to take photos or appear on a webcam, and then use the photos or footage to blackmail you. More commonly, they will come up with some sort of sob story, and will hope you step in to offer the cash to help them sort it out. If you don't offer - they will then ask. Common stories include medical issues with a sudden need for expensive treatment, being stuck overseas and needing cash to get home, or wanting to come to visit you but not having the cash for travel.
Stage 5. Coming back for more
If you send money, then that's unlikely to be the end of it. The sob stories will keep coming, and the requests for cash will get higher and higher. Only when you eventually say no will they disappear without a trace.
Protecting yourself means being careful from the outset. You should never assume that people are who they say they are: ask lots of questions, be very wary if they try to avoid answering - and don't reveal too much about yourself.
Relationships that seem too good to be true and those that move very fast - particularly where they profess their love without ever having met you - should ring alarm bells.
And finally, never, ever give anyone your personal details or send them money. It's never acceptable to ask for cash on a dating site, so matter what situation you are facing.