In today's digitally-connected world, online dating has become more popular than ever. In fact, more than 15% of American adults say they have used an online dating site or mobile app, according to the Pew Research Center.
But take caution -- while you're looking for love online, there are a lot of creepy criminals out there trying to take advantage of you.
Every three hours an online dater gets scammed
According to a new report from the UK's City of London Police, there's a new case of online dating fraud every three hours.
The way it works is similar to many other common scams, but with online dating, the criminals establish a convincing relationship with the victim in order to make him or her really believe that their help is necessary.
According to the report, scammers will typically request money with the first month -- either via email or even over the phone. If the criminals can convince someone over the phone that they are who they say they are, the person is more likely to hand over the money.
Who is most likely to get scammed?
Scammers typically prey on people who are likely to be vulnerable in the situation -- they will go after anyone, regardless of how sick it is.
According to the FBI, the most common targets of online dating scams in the U.S. are women over the age of 40 who are divorced, widowed and/or disabled.
And the financial damage can be devastating -- ranging from thousands of dollars to even millions.
According to the London Police report, the average amount lost in an online dating scam in the UK is 10,000 Pounds -- which is about $12,464.
How to protect yourself
Here are some tips from the FBI on how to spot a potential online dating scam and recognize whether the person on the other end may just be after your money.
You should be suspicious if your "date" does any of the following:
- Presses you to leave the dating website you met through and to communicate using personal e-mail or instant messaging;
- Professes instant feelings of love;
- Sends you a photograph of himself or herself that looks like something from a glamour magazine;
- Claims to be from the U.S. and is traveling or working overseas;
- Makes plans to visit you but is then unable to do so because of a tragic event; or
- Asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimization).
You should never send money via wire transfer to someone you met online or someone whose identity you can't 100% confirm. Once that money leaves your bank account, you will never get it back.
The FBI says the best way to avoid these scams is to stick to online dating sites with nationally known reputations. Look for reviews and never share any personal information that you wouldn't want exposed to a criminal.
If you think you've been a victim of an online dating scam or any Internet-related crime, the FBI says you should file a report at www.ic3.gov.