We’ve been in the online dating business for a long time now. We’ve developed and managed several hookup and dating services, and trust us when we say we’ve seen it all when it comes to online scams!
And we’d like to teach you what we’ve learned from running some of the web’s largest hookup apps.
It’s 2023 and one thing to keep in mind is that there are scammers on ALL online dating apps and they are only increasing in numbers. From the top dating and hookups apps to the lesser-known ones, every platform has its fair share of scammers, spammers, fraudsters, and prostitutes.
We spent countless hours engineering new ways to find these profiles on the backend of the applications we built, which anyone who has worked as a software developer on an online dating site will tell you, it’s a constant cat and mouse game.
The bottom line is that no matter what these dating services do or anti-spam defenses they build, the scammers always find a new way to take advantage of innocent users. It’s even popped up on the FTC’s radar.
So we decided to create this guide that will help you identify legit dating profiles from those that are created by scammers or prostitutes.
Follow our tips and you should be able to spot them 100% of the time.
Types of scammers
In our office, we classified scammers in several ways. Understanding the different types of scammers out there and what type of game they play will help you identify and avoid them.
Romance scammers are individuals who create fake online profiles on dating sites and apps in order to defraud unsuspecting users. They usually target people who are looking for a serious relationship and use fake names, photos, and stories to gain their victim’s trust.
These relationships usually move quite fast as the scammer tries to gain their victim’s trust quickly. Many times, they claim to be working overseas or have some other reason why they can’t meet in person.
Once they have built up a rapport, they will start asking for money, often for made up reasons such as medical bills or travel costs.
They may even go so far as to threaten their victim with physical harm or blackmail if they do not comply.
Unfortunately, these scams are becoming more and more common, with the majority of victims being both men and women over 40.
Dating sites and hookup apps have become fertile grounds for prostitutes to lure in clients. These are usually pretty easy to spot.
They will often talk about “looking for a good time” or “looking for someone to have some fun with.” They may also use coded language like “ISO” which stands for “in search of” or “DDF” which means “drug and disease free.”
We found that there were several types of prostitutes selling their services online:
- The Escort: The escort is the most common type of prostitute that you will find online. These are usually women who are advertising their services as sexual companions for hire. They may also offer other services such as massage or general companionship.
- The Sugar Baby: The sugar baby is a type of prostitute that is typically younger and more attractive than the average person. They will often offer their services to older, wealthy men in exchange for gifts, money, or other favors.
- The Fake Escort: The fake escort is one of the most common types of scammers that you will encounter online. They will often create fake profiles on dating sites and apps, pretending to be an escort or sex worker. They will then contact potential victims and offer their services in exchange for money. They tell the client to send the money first and they’ll meet at a predetermined spot. However, as soon as the money is sent, the scammer disappears.
We wouldn’t classify cam girls as prostitutes, but they do sell their body for money in a different but much safer way. These are usually women who perform sexual acts on webcam in exchange for money.
They typically have a profile on an adult webcam site, or a popular site like Onlyfans, where they will offer their services.
These individuals will try to build a relationship with you for weeks or even months before trying to extract money from you.
They will usually start by asking for small favors like sending a picture of yourself or a short video. These requests will seem innocent enough at first, but eventually, they will ask you to do something that is sexual in nature.
Once they have something that they can use to blackmail you, they will threaten to send it to your spouse, family, or friends unless you pay them money.
We’ve seen variations of this scam where the blackmailer pretends to be a minor and threatens to send sexual images to the police unless the victim pays them.
In other cases, the online scammer will claim to have compromising video footage of the victim and will threaten to release it unless they are paid.
If you’re married and looking for something on the side, we highly recommend you use a site like Ashley Madison, since it’s built specifically for these kinds of hookups.
Competing dating sites
Yeah. That’s right. Even other dating sites will create fake profiles on their competitor’s sites to lure users to their platform.
Customer service scammers
This was probably the most common type of scammer we had to defend against. They were typically organized rings of online criminals and they were constantly deriving new creative ways to trick users into forking over their billing information.
They would always pose as customer service or billing support, and try to trick you into providing personal information or making a payment on a 3rd party payment provider. That’s huge red flag.
These types of scammers usually have an awkward but official looking username, sometimes even incorporating the dating site’s actual name, to give it even more of an authoritative look.
We were continually adding to a very long list of banned usernames that scammers would use to dupe unsuspecting users. Examples of names we’ve seen on some of the other big dating sites are:
The easiest way to identify these types of online dating scams is if they contact you through the dating platform, not your registered email.
The scammers don’t have access to your registered email, only the official dating service has that information.
If you receive a customer support message on the dating site itself, ignore it! Real customer support messages are almost always sent your registered email. Not your dating profile inbox!
They try to move communication off the site (Might be a scammer)
A very common tactic we saw scammers use to try to trick you is by moving the conversation off the dating platform as soon as possible. They’ll try to engage you in conversations on other platforms such as:
- Kik (extremely common)
- Telegram (Extremely common)
The reason they want to do this is because it’s much harder for dating sites and apps to track and remove these profiles when they’re using multiple platforms.
Most of the time they’ll complain that the membership fees are too high or that the app doesn’t work well on their phone, but that they really want to talk to you more…you know how the rest goes.
So, if someone you’ve started chatting with on a dating site or app suddenly asks you to start communicating on another platform, be very wary!
Look for bad grammar & consistent spelling mistakes
One of the most common tell-tale signs of an online dating scam is bad grammar and spelling mistakes. This is especially true if they’re messaging you on a dating app or site with a limited character count, like Tinder.
A lot of these online scammers are from foreign countries and English is not their first language. So, they’re not great at spelling and grammar. But, even if they are from the same country as you, scammers will often times use bad grammar as a way to seem more “authentic”.
Check for broken English & unusual phrasing
Another way to tell if someone is a scammer is by their use of broken English or unusual phrasing. This is because a lot of online dating scam artists are not from the US and English is not their native language, so they often use Google Translate or other online translation tools to communicate with you.
While these translation apps work great, they still haven’t mastered the subtleties of English conversations. You know, like in the movies when the imposter says “it’s raining like dogs and cats” instead of “it’s raining like cats and dogs”.
You need to pay attention to the details. So, if you see someone using strange words or phraseology that doesn’t make sense, there’s a good chance they’re running a scam.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and you might come across someone who is legitimately from another country and doesn’t speak great English. But, if they seem fishy in other ways (like being pushy for personal information or money), then it’s probably best to be cautious.
Cookie cutter messages
We saw the “copy and paste” method all the time. This is where a scammer takes a generic message, usually something like “Hey, how are you?” or “You’re beautiful, I’d love to chat” and sends it out to hundreds or even thousands of people.
The problem with these messages is two-fold. First, they’re generic and uninspired so it’s very likely the person receiving them will just roll their eyes and move on.
Second, and this is the big one, is that these messages are usually sent by robots, or at the very least, automated software that is mass messaging people on the site or app.
The best way to avoid these messages is to use common sense. If you receive a message that looks like it could have been sent to hundreds of other people, it probably was. And if the message is just a few words, or even just a single word, chances are it’s an online dating scam.
Asking for money (Definitely a scammer)
Probably the most popular online dating scams we saw was when someone asks for money.
It usually goes something like this:
You meet someone on a dating app or site, and you start chatting. They seem nice, and you hit it off. A few days or weeks into talking, they start hinting that they’re in some sort of financial trouble, or they need money for some emergency. And they need it fast.
You want to help, so you send them money. And then you never hear from them again.
Congrats. You’ve been scammed.
There are a few variations of this, but they all essentially boil down to someone asking you for money, and then disappearing when you send it.
If someone you meet online asks you for money, do not send it.
There are a few other red flags to watch out for when talking to someone online:
- They avoid answering personal questions
- They have a sob story about why they need money
- They ask you to send money to an address that is not in the United States
- They refuse to video chat or meet in person
- They want to use Western Union
- They pressure you to move quickly
Asking for too much personal information
Another easy way to identify an online dating scam is if they start asking for too detailed of personal information.
For example, a scammer will often ask for your full name, your home address, your date of birth or your social security number. They may even ask for your bank account information or your credit card number.
Use common sense here. All of this personal information is unnecessary for someone trying to decide if they want to go on a date or hookup with you.
What do we mean by common sense? Think about if you had met this person in a bar instead of online. Asking for your phone number is pretty innocent. Everyone does that. But what would you think if they suddenly asked for your home address or your social security number? You’d immediately be suspicious!
If they start asking for too much information, our advice is to stop talking to them immediately and report them to the dating site or app.
Look for inconsistent stories
Another common thing we saw on profiles of scammers was inconsistencies in their stories. For example, they’d say they were from one country but their profile photos were clearly taken in another.
They’d have unlikely jobs, like being a model or an actor, but their photos would be of average quality and wouldn’t look like professional shots.
They’d also have a hard time keeping their stories straight, and would often contradict themselves.
When you’re talking to someone online, pay attention to the little details and see if anything they’re saying doesn’t add up.
If they’re constantly changing their story or they can’t keep their facts straight, be suspicious. It’s likely they’re not being truthful with you.
Fake profile photos (Definitely a scammer)
An obvious sign of an online dating scam is a fake profile photo. If the profile photo looks too good to be true, it probably is!
There are a few ways to tell if a profile photo is fake:
- They’re using a stock photo: This is probably the most obvious sign that a profile photo is fake. If you Google Image search the profile photo and it comes up in other people’s social media profiles or on a stock photo site like Shutterstock, then you know it’s a fake.
- They’re using a model photo: If the profile photo looks like it could be a professional photo or a photo from a modeling portfolio, then it’s probably a fake.
- They’re using a celebrity photo: This is another fairly obvious sign that the profile photo is fake. If the person you’re looking at looks like a celebrity, then they’re probably not the real person behind the profile.
- They’re using a photo that’s too good to be true: If the profile photo looks like it’s been professionally done or photoshopped, then it’s probably a fake.
- They’re using a photo that’s not of them: This is probably the most common sign that a profile photo is fake. If the person in the photo doesn’t look like they could be the person behind the profile, then they’re probably not.
If you come across a profile photo that you think might be fake, then there are a few things you can do to confirm it:
- Google Image search the photo: You can always try a reverse google image search. Just save the photo, then drag and drop it into the google image search bar. Anything pop up? If it comes up in other people’s social media profiles or on a stock photo site like Shutterstock, then you know it’s a fake.
- Ask them for a recent photo: If you’re talking to someone online and you’re not sure if their profile photo is fake, then you can always ask them for a recent photo. And have them write down your username or the date and hold it up in the photo to know it’s legit. If they refuse then you know they’re fake.
- Ask them to video chat: This is probably the best way to confirm that the person you’re talking to is real. If they’re not willing to video chat with you, then they’re probably not who they say they are.
Profile photos with phone numbers or emails on the photos (Definitely a scammer)
We saw tons of these types of profiles, where the user would put a phone number or email in the profile photo. These are obviously fake profiles, created with the sole purpose of luring men (or women) into a trap.
Nothing good will come of contacting these users outside of the dating app.
The best way to avoid this type of online dating scam is to never contact them using the information in the profile photo, no matter how tempting it may be. If you want to learn more about the person, ask them directly through the app’s messaging system.
Watch out for profiles with only a few or no photos
Scammers often only use one or 2 photos when creating a dating profile.
The thinking behind this is that they can create a more attractive profile by only posting their best photos, and that by not posting too many photos, they’ll appear more mysterious.
Of course, the reality is that most people who use dating apps are honest and well-intentioned, so if you come across a profile with only one photo, it’s not necessarily a red flag.
However, if the profile has no photos, or if all the photos are clearly professional headshots, it’s a good idea to be cautious.
In our experience, scammers who use this tactic are usually trying to bait you into sending them money or personal information, so our advice is to move on and find someone else to chat with.
Another red flag to watch out for is a profile that has only group photos. While it’s not unusual for people to have group photos on their dating profiles, it’s generally a good idea to steer clear of profiles where you can’t identify the person.
There’s a chance that the person is trying to hide their identity, which is often the case with scammers, or they could simply be trying to avoid being recognized by someone they know.
Either way, it’s not worth the risk, so our advice is to move on to someone else’s profile.
Making promises of meeting in person but never do
Another common online dating scam we noticed was when someone contacts you and begins building a rapport, only to suddenly start making excuses for why they can’t meet up in person.
For example, if they’re always making last-minute excuses like they’re about to leave for their next business trip, they work overseas, they’re in the military or they always have some emergency that prevents them from meeting up. And while there are certainly some people who legitimately can’t meet up in person due to their work or other commitments, more often than not, this is just a way for scammers to avoid having to meet up with you in person.
If you’re ever in doubt, just remember that if someone is interested in meeting you in person, they will make it happen, no matter what. So if you’ve been talking to someone for awhile and they always have some excuse for why they can’t meet up, it’s probably time to move on.
They disappear for long periods of time
This is usually red flag, but not always. Sometimes people just need a break from dating or they’re busy with other things in their life. But if someone you’re talking to starts going MIA for days or weeks at a time, with no explanation, that’s a pretty good sign they’re running an online dating scam.
If they come back and apologize profusely for their absence and swear they’ll be more present from now on, that’s another red flag. If they’re really interested in you, they should be able to make time for you, even if it’s just a quick message to say hi.
They refuse to video chat with you
A big red flag that people often overlook is if the person they’re talking to on the dating app or site refuses to video chat with them.
In the day and age of FaceTime and WhatsApp, there is NO excuse for someone not to want to video chat with you, especially if you’ve never met in person before.
There could be a number of reasons why they don’t want to video chat with you, but the most likely one is that they are trying to hide their identity for some reason. And that reason is usually because they are scammers.
We’ve seen it time and time again, a guy or girl will start chatting with someone on the app, and they’ll refuse to video chat, saying things like “I’m not comfortable with that” or “I don’t have a camera”.
If it’s too good to be true. It is!
This is the number one rule you should always follow when you’re using any sort of online dating or hookup service.
If a profile looks too good to be true, then it is!
Models or extremely attractive people are often used as bait to scam people out of their money.
The same goes for profiles that are filled with only professional photos. It’s not impossible for someone to have only professional photos, but it is unlikely.
When in doubt, always assume the worst and move on.
Trust your gut
The first and most important rule is to trust your gut. If something feels off, it probably is.
There are tons of scammers out there, and they’re getting more and more creative. They’re building fake profiles, using real people’s photos (often stolen from social media), and creating believable backstories.
When you’re talking to someone online, pay attention to how they communicate. Are they always available? Do they seem too good to be true? Do they avoid answering questions directly?
These are all red flags that should make you suspicious.
Tips on how to avoid being scammed on dating sites
Don’t give away too much personal information
This is the most important rule when it comes to online dating: don’t give away too much personal information! No matter how trustworthy the person you’re talking to seems, you should never give away private information like your address, phone number, or even your last name.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For References
Not enough people do this, but if you come across a profile that looks too good to be true, or the person seems overly eager to meet you without getting to know you first, be sure to ask for references. A real person should have no problem providing you with a few friends or co-workers that you can contact to vouch for them. If they refuse, move on.
Never Never Never Send Money or Pay Anything Without Meeting In Person First
This one should be obvious, but unfortunately, it’s not. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard horror stories from our users who have been scammed out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars by someone they thought they could trust.
Check Out Their Social Media Profiles Before You Meet Them
If they didn’t supply a link to their social media profile, ask for it. If they refuse or make up some excuse like “I don’t really use social media” that should be a huge warning sign.
Most people who are looking for hookups or dates will have at least one social media profile that they can link to. It doesn’t matter if it’s Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Snapchat, Twitter or TikTok. If they’re active online and have a social media profile, they shouldn’t have a problem showing you it.
Look For Red Flags When They Talk About Their Job Or Income
You might think that people who post pictures of themselves with expensive cars and luxury vacations are just being honest when they say they make six figures. However, there are plenty of ways to fake income and job titles.
If you have any doubt, move on
If you have any doubt about a person you meet online, move on. There are plenty of other fish in the sea.
It sounds cynical, but always assume that the person you’re talking to is running an online dating scam until you have strong evidence to the contrary. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.