Imagine that you’re recently divorced, or broken up, or are just plain lonely and would like company. Like so many others you happen to see a story about an online dating service. You go to the site, everything looks positive and above-aboard and you think — why not? You sign up. And as soon as you do, someone bright, attractive, who shares all the interests you do, and matches all the criteria you want, shows up. You email each other. You exchange calls. You arrange a meeting.
But the person doesn’t show up. Eventually you go back home — and your place has been robbed. Stripped clean of every valuable you had.
It was all a set-up. The person in question told you what you wanted to hear so that they could get you out of your place while the robbery took place. But how did they get past the home security system? Oh, that’s right — you don’t happen to have one.
It could have been worse. The thief could have met you directly at your door. That way rape or worse could be added to their list of accomplishments.
Fantasy? No. Simply type “internet” and “burglary” into Google and you’ll find a rich list of the way criminals are using the internet to enrich themselves — and rob or threaten you.
A short while I personally joined one of the many online local dating services — I’m sure you’ve heard of it — purely in order to find out whether here was indeed a potential for victimhood among my current clients, and how many people I could easily connect with. Answer: 2,000! Many of them were living alone, many of them with day or night jobs, some of them elderly, and nearly all of them ready to share personal information in hopes of finding that special someone. Personal information that may be all a thief or worse needs to commit his or her crimes.
Not everyone is a criminal, of course. And some dates work out very happily. I don’t mean to discourage anyone from finding their perfect match, or even someone with whom you can spend an enjoyable evening. But you should remember that some of those potential love mates are also potential predators, and also that there are ways to protect yourself.
What should alert you to possible predators?
- Asking About Money Or Property. Internet predators will ask about your property to find out whether it’s worth robbing. If they ask for your address, bells should go off. But even a general mention of where you live may be enough for a criminal with a knack for internet research to work out your actual location. There are reverse phone look-up services that can find your location as soon as your phone number is known. Some online fraudsters don’t even need to meet you: they may ask for money in other ways – airfare to come and visit you, an emergency situation, a “great great” investment opportunity. If they ask for money — beware.
- As a rule, scammers and creditors are the ones that make contact first. When you make contact, odds are that the person is legitimate. When someone contacts you, they may be legitimate — but they may not. Take more care. Sometimes it’s better not to respond
- Fake pictures, fake profiles. Predators usually use photos of exceptionally attractive people, or post profiles that make you imagine that they have independent wealth or other exceptional qualities. Even good people exaggerate, of course, but if they look too good to be true, they generally are. If you think the picture or information is suspicious, trust your instincts. (You can even search the information for similar photos using www.tineye.com — if the photo is fake or belongs to someone else, don’t date that person: report them to the dating service.
- Predators want to know about you. They avoid your queries about them. If you are getting a lot attention from someone but not getting many answers in return, take care.
- Inconsistencies. If the information you’re getting doesn’t stay straight, it may be a lie. Often online cheaters operate as a team: you may be talking to different persons at different times. So if you notice variations in style, language choice differences, ‘slips of tongue’ — be careful.
- Asking for another way to interact — fast. Dating services aren’t fools: they know that many of the people coming online are posting fake profiles, and that some of them have bad intentions. They remove such people fast. As a result, predators try to get you to interact using email or phone quickly, because they know that their profile will be deleted quickly. (And also because the more information they have, the easier it is to find your address, too.)
It goes without saying that the best way to stay safe is to not give your address out, to meet in a public place until you are very sure that the person is legitimate, to do a little background research of your own, and above all to have a security system and monitoring at home. Unless you give the person your entry codes — and they’re no reason whatever to ever do so — your home will be safe. And so will you.