Lies, Scams and Picture Leaks - The Risks of Online Dating

21/06/2016 12:04 | Updated 21 June 2016

Rewind a decade and looking for love online was the dating equivalent of a rocker listening to Justin Bieber. Fast forward a few years, and the stigma around online dating has all but faded. In fact, for time-pressured millennials, online dating has all but become a norm, with people spending an average of 17 days a year looking for love online.

In a lot of ways, online dating can make the process of meeting someone much easier, removing some of the emotional challenges associated with meeting in person. As the younger, internet-savvy generations step onto the dating ladder, the modern way of finding love is only set to become more popular. In fact, eHarmony recently predicted that by 2040, almost 70% of relationships will be formed by people meeting online.

But unfortunately it's not all hearts and roses. From spammers and scammers, to liars and cheats, the list of risks involved with online dating lengthy. So how much can we trust it and what can we do to ensure we keep ourselves safe online?

Can we trust online dating?

One of the biggest challenges with dating online is that even once you've spent hours talking to someone, you still won't really know who's behind that screen until you meet in person. Right from a photo-shopped pictures to a scammer with an entirely fake profile, the remote side to online dating poses risks for men and women.

To avoid disappointment, it's important to never assume anything from a potential partner's online profile. Asking to meet up in person or video chat is a good way to verify someone's identity. If they protest or make excuses as to why they cannot, it's best to err on the side of caution.

Conversations that seem a bit off or where the person isn't answering your questions directly could also point to a scammer behind the screen. Many fake profiles are run by programmes called bots that are designed to entice you to click on a link that could lead to porn, webcam sites, malware or scam operations set up to capture your credit card information.

More dangers than a broken heart?
While there are loads of legitimate daters online, there is also a lot of scammers, turning to online dating sites as their new "phishing pool." Fraudsters are always finding new ways to trick people into handing over money or entering into a false relationship. They invest a huge amount of time and effort into building a relationship with someone, knowing that they can potentially reap a bigger reward as they build trust and intimacy.

Police in the UK announced a 16 per cent increase in online dating scams last year which resulted in losses of around £33 million. It's important to always wary of requests for financial assistance. Someone may contact you with a sob story, about being stranded in a foreign country, or a sudden family emergency. No matter how well you think you know them, if they ask you for money, you should report them to the service you are using.

Staying safe
Once it's online, it's always online. With anything you post on the internet, it's out there for everyone to see, so it's really important you are careful with the identifiable information you use in your dating profile and which sites you sign up to.

It's also good to exercise caution when using a webcam as people can record the webcam session and use it to blackmail you. If the conversation you're having starts to take an uncomfortable turn, just remember that it's okay to disconnect the chat.

Choosing a reputable, well-known website is also important and joining a paid site often means there will be more legitimate daters since members have to pay to communicate with each other.

Some sites allow you to either delete or disable your account and since users sometimes return to online dating, the site retains your information, so always make sure you check the sites' privacy policy and verify how data with these accounts are handled.