Dating Scams: What They Are And How To Stop Them
Dating and romance scams often take place through online dating websites, but scammers may also use social media or email to make contact. They have even been known to telephone their victims as a first introduction. These scams are also known as ‘catfishing’. Clues for spotting fake profiles.
Dating scams are sharply on the increase in the United States. The media is dominated by reports of online scams involving dating, concentrating on the emotional and often financial costs this brings to victims.
- The state where you’re most likely to be catfished is Alaska, and Illinois is where you’re least likely to be catfished.
- California had the most victims in any state, at 2,105 in one year.
- Vermont had the lowest number of victims in any state, with only 25 in one year.
- The state with the highest average cost per crime was North Carolina, with $47,886 per crime.
- The state with the lowest average cost per crime was South Dakota, with $3,281 per crime.
- A total of $323,952,461 was lost to catfish scams in 2018. (Fun fact: that’s about the net worth of Robert Downey Jr.)
If you have used online dating, and it’s estimated that one in five of us now have, using a private investigator to conduct a background check on the people you meet can help stop you falling victim to such a scam.
States where you’re most likely to be catfished
- New Hampshire
States where you’re least likely to be catfished
- South Dakota
- North Carolina
States that have the highest and lowest cost per victim
Across the US, a total number of 19,473 people reported a total of $475,014,032 in cash lost to catfishing scams in 2019.
States with the most dollars lost per victim
- Oklahoma – $70,288 per victim
- Montana – $68,102 per victim
- Massachusetts – $62,018 per victim
- California – $48,891 per victim
- Louisiana – $44,859 per victim
- Washington – $33,700 per victim
- Florida – $31,916 per victim
- Rhode Island – $29,300 per victim
- Delaware – $28,007 per victim
- Colorado – $25,382 per victim
States with the least dollars lost per victim
- Maine – $3,820 per victim
- D.C. – $5,531 per victim
- Wyoming – $7,279 per victim
- North Dakota – $9,327 per victim
- Kentucky – $9,955 per victim
- Indiana – $11,282 per victim
- Alaska – $11,947 per victim
- Vermont – $12,463 per victim
- Ohio – $12,562 per victim
- Wisconsin – $12,617 per victim
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How to avoid catfish online
Love hurts, but so does losing a bunch of money to an online scam. When you’re looking for the right one, there may be plenty of fish in the sea, but here’s how you can avoid a catfish:
Spotting a catfish
“A good rule of thumb is that if it seems too good to be true, it is,” says Heinrich Long, a Privacy Expert at Restore Privacy.
Experts warn to be wary of the following catfishing characteristics:
- They appear to be unbelievably attractive, single, rich, or “have a great job.”
- They ask you for money.
- They seem evasive or avoid giving details about life, family, etc.
- They claim to be from another country, promise to visit, but always have something come up to keep you from actually meeting them.
Whether you’ve already spotted a catfish, or you’re still trying to figure out if someone you met online can be trusted, here are some helpful tips to avoid getting burned.
- Keep conversations inside online apps until meeting in-person to prevent disclosing more personal info.
- Never reveal information susceptible to identity-theft such as banking information, or common security questions like maiden names, childhood pets, or where you were born.
- Never send money to people you haven’t met in person.
- Trust your gut, and don’t get too romance-happy until meeting in-person.
- Try reverse searching their images using Google or other tools.
- File a police report if they ask for money (or you’ve already sent it).
- Block them and stop responding to their messages.
There are many ways a catfish can try to rob you of your money, time, or effort. You can learn more about online romance scams from the Federal Trade Commission, FTC, or more catfishing tips from the BBB.
We used data from the FBI’s 2019 Internet Crime Report, which included the total reported incidents per state. We combined this with US Census Bureau’s 2019 population estimates to calculate the number of crimes per 100,000 residents.
Confidence/Romance Fraud as defined by the FBI: A perpetrator deceives a victim into believing the perpetrator and the victim have a trust relationship, whether family, friendly or romantic. As a result of that belief, the victim is persuaded to send money, personal and financial information, or items of value to the perpetrator or to launder money on behalf of the perpetrator. Some variations of this scheme are romance/dating scams or the grandparent scam.7
- Internet Complaint Center, Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Annual Reports | 2019 State Reports,” Feb, 2020. Last accessed July 13, 2020.
- Socialcatfish.com, “Online Dating During the Coronavirus Has Gone Viral” 2020. Last accessed July 29, 2020.
- “FBI Warns of Money Mule Schemes Exploiting the COVID-19 Pandemic — FBI,” April 6, 2020. Last accessed July 29, 2020.
- US Census Bureau, “U.S. and World Population Clock,” Last accessed July 13, 2020.
- Eric Vanman, The Conversation, Phys.org, “We asked catfish why they trick people online—it’s not about money” July 26, 2018. Last accessed July 29, 2020.
- Aisha Harris, Slate.com, “Catfish meaning and definition: term for online hoaxes has a surprisingly long history,”January 18, 2013. Last accessed July 29, 2020.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation, “2019 Internet Crime Report,” Feb, 2020. Last accessed July 29, 2020.