One of the needs of being a human being is to be loved. On Maslow's hierarchy of needs, love and belonging rate after the basic safety and physiological (water, food, shelter, security) needs have been met. Being lonely can make people vulnerable to being taken advantage of. This can include being scammed through an internet site.
About 70% of those scammed are female and 50% are over 40. According to Scamwatch, in 2015 there were 2,620 Australians who reported losing money through dating scams. Some people who are scammed don't report it as they are embarrassed.
Scammers don't limit their activities to online dating sites. Some people who have been scammed were contacted through a social media site such as Facebook where they may have made lots of personal information public.
Looking back, someone who has been scammed may see there were warning signs. However, their need to love and be loved may have made them overlook these signs.
The scammer, sometimes referred to as a 'catfish', may have researched their target through social media or Google and have accumulated information they could use to say things that would appeal to them. They will have enough information about the person to know they are sufficiently well off to pursue. Perhaps they asked lots of questions which made the target feel someone was genuinely interested in them.
A scammer is likely to use a fake name and a photo of someone else. The scammer may appear to have numerous interests in common with the person they are planning to scam. They may even claim to have a strong religious faith as part of their strategy to seem trustworthy.
The scammer may try to convince their target that their profile stood out among the rest. They may quickly try to establish a close bond and be very flattering, claiming to feel there is a special connection. Then they may suggest moving off the dating site and communicating by email, SMS or phone. The phone number may be for a disposable mobile used for specific tasks and then thrown away or connected to a computer in an overseas country such as Nigeria.
There are various scams involving tricking lonely people out of thousands of dollars. Often the fraudster plays on the target's desire to help people. Some caring individuals find it hard to refuse when asked for money to pay for health care for a sick or injured child or help in an emergency. The scammer may have promised to visit and built up the target's expectations. When an unexpected trauma occurs using up the scammer's finances for the flight, they may ask to borrow the money.
Some scams may not be as drastic as losing thousands of dollars but can nevertheless be annoying. Mr Dreamy may ask for your email address. You never hear from him again but you start getting lots of spam. It's probably wise to delay giving out your email address and when you do perhaps set up a new one which you can cancel easily just in case things go wrong.
Online dating sites often have advice on keeping yourself safe and this can include advice about how to spot a scammer. In Australia anyone who thinks they have been scammed should contact scamwatch.gov.au. Yes, there are scammers on the internet but there are also genuine people.