Avalanching, cuffing, micro-flirting… Catfishing, love-bombing, the Tinder Swindler… It’s Valentine’s Day again, folks!

As the month of love gets into full swing, one dating site witnessed a 50% increase in page views, a 100% rise in visitors, and a 150% increase in users swiping one way or the other during the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day.

Criminals love to hide amongst genuine behaviour and such a massive increase in activity allows them to blend further into the shadows. This teamed with people lowering their requirements to find a date (hello 150% increase in swipes!) is a perfect storm for scammers to take advantage of.

Whether it’s via a dating app or good old-fashioned social media before Cupid strikes you need to be cautious about who you talk to and what you talk to them about, as things are not always as they seem.

“We’re social animals and we crave human interaction, even us cynical old fraud types, but in the same way that you wouldn’t give your bank card to a stranger in a bar (no matter how cute), you shouldn’t share your personal details or money with a stranger you meet online.”

While it’s easy to give this advice, it can be challenging to follow it. When you meet someone who you believe to be the love of your life, you may forget about being cautious. Romance scammers often use methods similar to domestic abuse to separate you from reality. Therefore, it’s crucial to stay vigilant and trust your instincts.

  • Gaslighting – making you question your perception of things and only trusting them.
  • Love-bombing – showering you with affection and blinding you from their other behaviour.
  • Distancing you from your support network – you may feel embarrassed or ashamed of your behaviour and hide away from friends and family as you don’t want their judgment.

Once someone has entered into a quasi-relationship with the scammer they’ll start to plant seeds into their conversations that they’ll exploit later on such as working abroad, working on the rigs, being in the military, or being a widow/widower – and soon start to ask for money. These can be small amounts initially, and often with the promise that if you just help them out up front, then you can start your new luxurious life together.

These fraudsters’ tactics are constantly adapting as businesses like Featurespace and documentaries like those from Netflix and Amazon Prime shine a light on their schemes – for example, there was a time when we’d advise that catfish don’t video chat, advising that if they don’t want to video chat then there’s a greater chance they are a scammer. Nowadays, Scammers are just as likely to video chat – but they might be using technology to layer on a completely different face on top of theirs.

“Unfortunately, all it takes is a message at the wrong time saying the right thing for us to become an unwilling participant in a criminal scam. Social engineering scams are some folks’ full-time jobs.”

Here are some tips on how to avoid the Casanovas – and leave with your heart intact:

  1. Guard your heart and your wallet: While love is in the air, remember that scammers exploit those emotions. Be cautious of individuals professing instant love or using sob stories to manipulate you.
  2. Stranger danger applies online: Don’t accept friend requests or messages from people you don’t know. Be wary of profiles with inconsistencies, limited information, or perfect-seeming personas.
  3. Keep communication public: Stay on established dating platforms or social media for initial interactions. Scammers often try to move conversations to private channels to gain control.
  4. Money matters are off-limits: Never send money, gift cards, or share financial information with someone you haven’t met in person. Legitimate love doesn’t require financial commitments early on.
  5. Trust your gut, talk to someone: If something feels suspicious, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to end communication and confide in a trusted friend or family member about your concerns.

Remember, romance scams can happen anytime, not just on Valentine’s Day. By staying vigilant and protecting your privacy, you can navigate the online dating world with a healthy dose of skepticism and keep your heart (and wallet) safe.

If you’re considering entering into the world of online romance you should read Becky Holmes’ book “Keanu Reeves Is Not In Love With You” which is full of advice and explains the methods used by scammers to arm yourself against.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a romance scam then contact organisations such as https://www.lovesaid.org/ run by the incredible Anna Rowe for help and assistance in coming to terms with the psychological impact of being a victim.