Whether you are 20, 40 or 60, the internet has changed the way we form romantic relationships.  In the past you met your partner through friends, at work or from socialising, now we meet people using apps, social media and dating websites.

Meeting someone online is very different, you might meet someone virtually who lives in a different city or country, and because you don’t meet face to face you build a connection through emails, messages and chats. This type of communication means you are unfortunately vulnerable to fraud.

The anonymity of the internet allows people to hide facets of their personality, from a relatively harmless lie about weight, to lies about financial problems and even creating a fake persona – this is called catfishing. If you aren’t careful, you may be out of pocket and broken-hearted.

Recent numbers from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau suggest that dating scams reached a record high in 2016.

Some 3,889 online dating-related fraud incidents were reported, resulting in a record loss of £39m.

Commander Chris Greany, the Police National Coordinator for Economic Crime at City of London Police, said criminals target those who they consider vulnerable and more likely to fall for scams:

“Our intelligence tells us that people aged 50-59 are the most likely to become a victim of dating fraud and therefore need to be especially careful when going online in search of a partner.”

Follow our tips to discover the danger of online dating and how to protect yourself.

Online dating: Dangers

  • Financial loss – you send money to someone and never get it back.
  • Identity fraud – your personal information is used to commit fraud such as opening bank accounts and taking out mobile phone contracts.
  • Extortion and blackmail – they request intimate photos and use them to get money from you.
  • Emotional damage.
  • Stalking and harassment.

Online dating: Scam warning signs

Two thirds of dating scams originate on dating sites, so if you are using the web to find love, you need to look for tell-tale signs when communicating online:

  1. They refuse or avoid efforts to communicate on the phone or in person.
  2. They don’t give away much personal information, instead preferring to ask you questions.
  3. They ask for money, claiming it’s urgently needed for medical expenses for themselves or a close family member, to pay for a flight home if they claim to be in the military, for a business deal or for a charity.
  4. They ask for bank details, claiming to have money in a foreign bank account they need to transfer.
  5. They want to chat away from the website or app you met on, via email or text.
  6. They request intimate photographs of you.
  7. Their language becomes aggressive when they ask for personal information.
  8. They claim to work abroad, often in the military.
  9. They quickly claim to be in love with you.
  10. They are online sporadically.
  11. Pay attention to the person’s profile picture. Does it look too perfect, and could it be fake?

Phone with words DANGER ONLINE dating

Online dating: How to protect yourself and stay safe

Don’t be afraid to use the internet to find love, just make sure you are safe:

  1. Never transfer money or give out financial details, this includes your account number, card details and online banking information.
  2. When using a dating website, conceal personal information, such as where you work and your phone number.  Only share this sort of information when you know someone well.
  3. Make sure you are getting to know the person, not just the information they are presenting in their online profile. Ask them lots of questions about themselves - like you would in face-to-face dating - and never feel rushed or pressured into an online relationship.
  4. Choose a username that doesn’t reveal too much about you, for example: James50Reading, gives too much away.
  5. Don’t share intimate photographs – however much you think you are bonding with someone, once a photograph is on the internet, there’s nothing you can do to stop the recipient sharing it or using it to extort money. If you really, really want to, make sure you conceal your face, to avoid blackmail.
  6. Similar to the step above, be careful when using webcams, particularly for intimate acts. The recipient could surreptitiously record you.
  7. Use resources available to you on the web to do some research and check the person is genuine. Put their name, profile pictures and any phrases they use frequently into a search engine, along with the term 'dating scam'.
  8. If the person you are communicating with puts pressure on you at all - for financial information or forces you to do something, cut communication.
  9. Don't move the conversation off the dating site's messenger service until you are confident the person is who they say they are.
  10. Tell a family member or friend if you plan to meet someone you met online in the real world. Also, make sure you discuss your online dating with friends and family, just like you would with any dating. Be wary of someone who tells you not to tells others about them.
  11. Check the website you are using is signed up to the Online Dating Association.
  12. Finally… trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right about a person, end communication.

Person wearing black typing on keyboard

Online dating: What to do if it goes wrong

If something goes wrong, you might feel too ashamed or embarrassed to act, but you must. Report it and tell your friends and family. It’s not just the financial loss, it’s also the emotional turmoil.

Report them to the dating website provider. The process varies between websites, for instance Match.com has a ‘Report this profile’ option.

If you are a victim of dating fraud report it to Action Fraud.

If you are a victim of blackmail or extortion, keep the evidence - take screenshots and save messages, the police may require it.

For everything you need to know about protecting yourself including safe first date meetings, please visit www.getsafeonline.org and choose ‘Protecting Yourself’ then ‘Safe Online Dating’.

For general online safety advice check out our article: How to protect your privacy online.

For advice on types of scams and how to protect yourself, check out BT.com/scams