Navigating the online dating minefield

I never in a thousand years thought that I would venture into the online dating world again, yet, here I am once more unto the breach and all that. Now, this isn’t because I have been in a relationship which has failed, or anything, it’s actually because, every once in a while, I wonder what it’s like to go on a date, see if perhaps Mr Right (or sort of almost maybe right) is out there. After a disaster date (or none, depending on what responses/reactions I get) I go back into my happy little introvert hideaway safe in the knowledge that apart from occasional company, I’m not actually missing out on that much after all.

This post isn’t to scare you out of going on an online dating site, not at all; in fact, I know a fair few people who have met their perfect partner by scouring through such sites and dating a few pieces of coal before finding their diamond (my brother is one such example). What I want to do is make sure that you don’t fall foul of the few absolutely lower than low scumballs that happen to be out there right now, taking advantage of the more vulnerable (or perhaps seemingly more desperate) women among you.

Nigerian Princes have now found a new way to get money out of women! You’re reading that right, and perhaps you’re thinking “What the HELL is she on about now?” so let me elucidate. At some point over the last year or so, when we (for the most part) got wise to the schemes of a certain group of fraudsters online and started making jokes about that whole Nigerian scam to get bank details, the scam got adapted, amended and rolled out to a whole new audience. Unfortunately, this new audience just happens to be women of a certain age, living a certain lifestyle and looking for love. Yep, that’s right, OKCupid, PoF and other sites like it (free dating sites specifically) have become the new hunting ground for people looking to steal your money.

This week alone I managed to gain the attention of two such unscrupulous ‘men’ (I have to restrain myself from using the words I would like to because I want to keep this post relatively PG). Luckily, for me, I am not desperate. I don’t care if I find Mr Right, I am not looking for marriage, or love (I am growing more and more sure with each year that goes by I am meant to be a cat lady), I am looking for people to hang out with, chat with, and get a drink with. Of course, these fraudsters/con-merchants (call them what you will, I have a few choice phrases I am now muttering under my breath) don’t know this, they see my profile, see that I am a single woman of a certain age who mentions cats and no kids and they think that I am their perfect target, the right demographic.

Oh boy, are they in for a shock.

Now, places like PoF and OKCupid do not warn you about these ‘people’ being on their sites; it appears that they have no screening process, you can switch on the locator, or leave it off, so there’s no way of telling you’re where you say you are, so in essence you have to be protective of yourself and your personal details. Most people are, in these tech-savvy days, more cautious about what they reveal, and who they reveal it to, but a lot of women are vulnerable. These are the lonely women, the ones who have to start all over again; widowed, divorced, separated. When some hunky guy sends you a message, flattering you and chatting with you, it’s nice.

Now, my two ‘men’ were both apparently armed forces (strike 1 there bucko), and from the very start there was something odd in the way that they were chatting with me, they were overly familiar, almost aggressive in their pursuit, and when I finally responded to Fraudster #1 (let’s call him jerk1 for fun), he started by establishing his backstory, he was ‘an military man’ (which set the alarm bells ringing from the off), and then he started to ask how much I knew about the military before reeling off all this pap about how he was stationed in Nigeria, (where I know there is only a special forces presence, but I was going to let him hang himself before I called him on his crap), something he proceeded to mention probably 6 times in the following 10 conversational exchanges over 24 hours (they must really think that women of a certain age are dim). He then tried to establish dominance by literally bombarding me with constant messages. I swear had it been my old phone it would have set my desk on fire; it was just beeping on and on and on all day alerting me to message after message for literally hours. When I finally DID respond I was verbally (well figuratively speaking) assaulted by “Why didn’t you respond, I know you’ve been online, you’re a liar I can see my logs…” all of which just served to make me more annoyed that this man clearly thought I was STUPID!

The clincher with Jerk1 came when I tested my theory about his motivations in contacting me. I mentioned that I was looking for someone to keep me in a style I would like to become accustomed as I had no money! Well, that set him off. I received no less than 15 abusive messages telling me that I was a stupid bitch, a liar, I had misled him, I was going to be reported (now, my profile actually states that I am not looking for marriage and kids, I have never wanted either) for falsifying details…he then told me that I clearly didn’t know what I wanted so he was going to go. At that point I copied all our conversations and his profile and then reported him to OKCupid and blocked him.

You’d think that was it. Not 12 hours later and I found myself the recipient of a VERY familiar first message from Jerk2, who was also in the US military, but this time (HAHA) stationed in Cairo. He started the conversation by calling me ‘Babe’ (a term I loathe) and was over-familiar from the get-go.

Right from the beginning I decided to take control of the conversation, copied everything, took screenshots and made sure I kept a record. He used the same “I am an military man, have you ever dated a man in the military before?” Then when I told him I had (I actually dated a US Navy Seal when I was in my early 20s, I loved his heavy wool jacket), he tried a slightly different tack, telling me how he was looking for his soulmate and felt that when he saw my ‘beautiful eyes’ he’d found her in me (do women REALLY fall for this – answers on a postcard please). I pretended to be flattered, already sick of the flannel and wondering when I had fallen into a badly written scene from a Mills and Boon romance.

I played along for probably an hour before I gave into the urge to mention money. Using the same almost ‘innocent’ and subtly jokey tone as I had with Jerk1, I mentioned how I was looking for someone who could spoil me and buy me things (just the thought of being like that makes me feel a little bit nauseous if I am being honest) and when that didn’t get the reaction I expected I asked him about his English, asking if he was a native of America because his speech pattern was rather stilted. Well, he couldn’t cut off the conversation quick enough. Within moments he’d vanished from the chat and his profile was gone. I still reported him because there will be record of him on the OKCupid servers somewhere, but I doubt it will do any good.

I am hoping, against hope, that these two very similar situations will help to give other women an idea of what to look for when it comes to identifying unscrupulous jerks who are doing nothing more than trying to con them out of money. Just this week in court a woman had to confront a man who had conned her out of over £100,000. How she allowed herself to believe that the story he made up for her was real is anyone’s guess, but men like that play on the vulnerable, the lonely, and ultimately the only people who can really help them in these situations are the people they stare at in the mirror.

So, if you are looking for someone on any of these free sites, please look out for the below indicators that someone is out to rip you in two (metaphorically speaking) and get their hands on your cash (and they aren’t just targeting women in the US, if my experiences prove anything, they are trying it on in the UK too).

  1. They start their first message with Sweetheart? Darling? Babe? Honey?
  2. They tell you that they are US military
  3. Their photos are clearly real, often one picture is of them in uniform (something that all armed forces are warned against doing to protect their families)
  4. They ask you if you know anything about the military (normally to establish how detailed they need to be)
  5. They tell you that they are somewhere the US military is unlikely to be (e.g. Nigeria, Cairo) or…
  6. They tell you that they are special forces (often they want you to believe that their job is something hugely mysterious – apparently it gives off that Jason Bourne/James Bond vibe that they believe women fall for)
  7. When you mention where you live – country only – they tell you that love knows no bounds and that they would be willing to travel any distance to see you
  8. They try to get you to give them your phone number by telling you that they only have a chat program like KiK or WhatsApp, as it “needs to be secure”
  9. They tell you that you are their soulmate/they believe you could be their soulmate and that they “knew from the moment I saw your picture”
  10. They bombard you with messages CONSTANTLY
  11. The way that they are writing in English almost reads like it’s being written by Google translate

What to do if the guy you’re chatting with meets the above (or any combination of the above):

  1. Do NOT give them any personal details (if you’ve given them your phone number then block the number that they’ve messaged you on)
  2. Ask them about something like ‘Google Hangouts’ so that you can “see their face” when you chat (they will ALWAYS say no, because they are not who they say they are)
  3. Make sure you keep copies of all conversations. They are very quick to remove profiles when they’ve been rumbled, so once your suspicions are raised take screenshots and save them somewhere
  4. Do NOT give them money; they will try and persuade you that it’s so that they can come and see you, or so that they can take a trip home to see family, the army sort out their home visit fares (normally using army transport, they do not need your money for this, or for hostage negotiations or anything else)
  5. Report them; seriously, use the little ‘report profile’ button on the dating app and then block them.

These men do not care who they hurt, they are just out to get as much from you as they possibly can, and they don’t care what they have to do to get it. If I can prevent just ONE PERSON from being conned then this post was worthwhile.

The whole experience hasn’t soured me on using dating apps (seriously, have you tried to find a date when you’re in your 40s? It’s like finding a needle in a haystack), what it has made me though is wary. I knew that these people were out there, but until I encountered two I thought that it was something of an urban legend.

I wasn’t conned, but had I not been as cynical as I am I might have fallen for the flattery and the pretty pictures (had they used images of Chris Evans I might have been done for!). Please, be careful out there. The dating world is frightening enough without this sort of thing happening. Please, just be a little bit more self-aware, look at the points above and if you have ANY doubts about how genuine Porter Burke from Missouri is, ask yourself WHY he wants to take your chat out of the app within 10 minutes of sending you the first message, and how come he’s contacting you when he’s deployed somewhere dangerous, rather than his two kids.

If it feels like it’s too good to be true then chances are it is.

Keep safe.

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