Question: A friend of mine started using dating sites after she broke up with her husband. She recently met a man who lives abroad on one of these sites and she seems to be falling in love with him.
I’ve seen the photos of him and he’s extremely handsome. He claims to work in a lucrative industry and seems keen to come to Ireland to visit.
I’ve been on dating sites myself for the last few years and to be honest it seems too good to be true. I also find it very strange that they have never had a FaceTime call. He made up an excuse that his phone camera is broken…
It seems I only have two choices. I can share my concerns with her, but she’ll probably just tell me I’m jealous that she found someone. Or I can do some research myself to prove to her he’s not who he says he is.
What should I do?
Answers: It sounds like your girlfriend threw herself into the world of online dating without much guidance. She probably could have used some advice from a seasoned practitioner or someone to help her spot the common warning signs and avoid rookie mistakes.
What may seem obvious to you – a person familiar with the online dating scene – may have passed over your boyfriend. Maybe she didn’t have an opportunity to sharpen her critical thinking skills. Or maybe she’s never really engaged with the language, rituals, and norms of an essentially new world.
I shared your dilemma with cyberpsychology researcher Dr. Nicola Fox Hamilton, who notes that there are a number of red flags to watch out for to avoid falling for a romance scam. And as you rightly pointed out, many of them describe the person your boyfriend has fallen in love with.
“The first and most important thing is that they created a personality that can’t just meet in person – for example, they live abroad,” she says. “They’ll also find ways to avoid video chatting and phone calls because they’re not who they say they are, and that’s immediately apparent on a video call.”
The strategy used by these scammers is to create a very attractive profile, she says. “The men or women portrayed are very good looking, and men usually have well-paying careers abroad – military, medical, construction or the like, while women usually live in an economically disadvantaged country and therefore cannot travel easily.
“In this particular case, the fact that they’re in a lucrative career but can’t fix their phone on FaceTime or buy a new phone is a very important red flag.”
Does this prove the man your boyfriend is dating is a scammer? No it does not. But it confirms that his behavior bears all the hallmarks of a love scam and your suspicions are indeed justified.
As a preliminary security measure, Hamilton suggests your friend use Google’s reverse image search tool, which allows her to verify that his profile picture from the dating site belongs to someone else or is actually a stock image.
That may help you with the “investigation” part of your dilemma, but it doesn’t really help with the overall puzzle of addressing the issue with your friend, or the emotional seesaw that’s likely ahead of you.
I also shared your dilemma with Mairéad Loughman from Love HQ. As a professional matchmaker, she has met many men and women over the years previously targeted by online dating scammers, some of them for large amounts of money.
Loughman knows firsthand how devastating this situation can be and how embarrassed and stupid people can feel when they realize they have been scammed. She also knows how important it is to recognize the warning signs before it’s too late.
“Unfortunately, this lady is having a very hard time deciding between being a good friend and hurting her friend’s feelings,” she says. “As a good friend, she has something to say. However, she must tread carefully. Perhaps ask why she is attracted to this person and talk about the reasons she is discussing.
“Sometimes people are lonely and confuse attraction with attention, so maybe she could arrange to spend time with her girlfriend too.”
Psychosexual and relationship therapist Aoife Drury offered similar advice.
“Sharing worries may not be easy and may be met with anger, disappointment, or resistance,” she says. “While doing investigative work and getting evidence to your friend may feel helpful, it can only end up embarrassing or undermining her and pushing you away.”
Drury suggests opening the dialogue. “Explaining your fears can serve as a reminder for them of how much they are cared for and supported if something goes wrong,” she says.
“It might be a better start to address your concerns with her from a caring and loving perspective. She might even share some of your concerns and your conversation might transform your relationships instead. It could then be the case that this investigation that you are talking about could be carried out jointly. It’s important to remind them that regardless, you’re there to support them.”
This could also be an opportunity to discuss general online dating safety tips with your boyfriend. When working with people who use dating apps, Loughman advises them to meet their partners in person within 30 days, but ideally within two weeks. “And yes, that includes people who live abroad,” she says.
“Overall, dating is a big part of going with your gut,” she adds. “If it’s too good to be true, it always is.”
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https://www.independent.ie/life/modern-morals-i-think-my-friend-has-fallen-for-an-online-dating-scammer-41618806.html Modern morality: I think my boyfriend fell for an online dating scammer