Online dating scams surface in different ways. One common scenario is meeting someone you met online, dating for a short while and then you're asked to lend them money for some sort of emergency.
Some scammers are so smooth they can romance prospective targets over email, text message or chatting program — and ask for money before they even met. For example, a smooth-talker could ask about being flown in to see the victim -- but disappear once they get the money wired to them. In many cases, thieves approach a number of women at the same time to put the odds in their favor.
There are other scams, too, such as a telephone dating con that has victims call the scammer on a particular number, which is secretly charging them many dollars per minute. It may be a few weeks before these charges are seen on a phone bill.
Variations of the infamous "Nigerian" scam also exist, where you're asked to help bring large sums of money into the country — but require you to cash (phony) money orders and wire the money to the thief.
A few tips to ensure you're not taken by an online dating scam:
* Be wary if the subject of money comes up with a prospective partner, online or in-person.
* Stick to reputable dating services. Many scams originate from free personals sites that let anyone place his or her ad for free.
* If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you receive a note from a very attractive male or female interested in you — and they initiated the correspondence out of the blue -- be suspicious.
* Scammers often don't give away their real contact info. If they're reluctant to share a landline number or place of employment, for example, be cautious. Do your homework about them, too, such as checking out their Facebook page, telephone directory site, and so on.
* If you're asked to send money to bring the person into the country and you don't bite, you won't hear from them again. Report the person to the online dating site with whatever information you have of theirs.
* If you're suspicious about their messages — many simply copy and paste text from one message to another — do an Internet search with some of the sentences or phrases and see if others have received them, too. Also check antiscam.org and you'll see notes and images many have reported to be from scammers — often after it's too late.
* Pass on online dating sites that encourage you to call a specific phone number to interact with prospective partners. If the person you're communicating with wants you to call them directly, ask that they call you first — just to err on the side of caution. If they don't call, you know it could be one of those 1-900 scams that rack up your phone bill.