Finding your soulmate

How to avoid online dating scams

August 27, 2020
Posted by Karen Strang Allen

Too many women I’ve worked with have had someone pretend to be someone they’re not online in order to get money from them.

And they are not alone. 

Catfishing (also known as a dating or romance scam) is now a multi-billion-dollar industry, and approximately 10% of online profiles (both on dating apps and social media) are reported to be fake.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission estimates that in 2022 alone, 70,000 Americans lost $1.3 billion to romance scams. In Canada, close to 1,000 Canadians lost $50 million in 2021 (approximately $54,000 on average).

Both amateur and expert criminals around the world prey on lonely people (women and men), telling them what they want to hear.

With women, a catfisher usually appears as a handsome man with a good career who says “you’re beautiful” and “I love you” often and quickly (appealing to a woman’s desire to be validated and loved). With men, they appear as young women sending sexy pics and telling them they’re handsome or hot (appealing to a man’s desire to feel young and manly again).

Once they’ve gotten your attention, they love bomb you and message you frequently, creating an online “relationship” with you to build your trust. They may even send you a gift so you think they’re real. Eventually, they ask you for money, with some kind of convincing and urgent reason.

It’s important to note that there are good people online, and many committed relationships (up to 40%) do start online.

So it’s not necessary to become hypervigilant or paranoid or avoid online dating altogether. Instead, learn the signs to watch for so you can protect yourself (and pass this information on to your single friends so they stay safe too).

Common catfishing signs

Here are some common signs you may be dealing with a catfisher:

  1. They look “too good to be true” – If they are drop-dead gorgeous and all their photos appear to be professionally taken, the photos are most likely stolen from someone else. While a person may have a professional photo or two, most people get their friends to take photos for them (or take selfies). Another give-away is that aside from the pro shots, they have few or no candid photos showing them in everyday life (e.g. with their pet, playing sports or gardening). And if you ask for a recent photo, they can’t (or won’t) provide one.

  2. They have a limited social profile – If your potential love interest doesn’t have a lot of friends or posts showing interaction with others on Facebook or other social media, or their profile looks new and has little history, they are likely not real.

  3. They love bomb you – They get serious way too fast, want to be exclusive without having met, are over-eager to communicate with you often, and make early promises of love, affection and even marriage. They listen closely to what you say you want and say they want all the same things, telling you what you want to hear so that you believe you’re in love.

  4. They avoid meeting in person – Probably the most classic sign of a catfisher, they say they can’t meet you in real life and seem to have a good excuse (working on an oil rig or diamond mine, on a military posting, an overseas doctor doing charity, currently travelling for a lengthy period, etc.). They usually avoid video chats as well (claiming poor Internet connection), wanting to stick to texting/messaging and maybe the occasional phone call.  

  5. They have poor English – Many of these scams are run from foreign countries, so English is often (though not always) their second language, and their spelling/grammar may be poor.

  6. Their stories lack details or are inconsistent – When you ask them about their life or history, their stories seem vague, with few personal details and odd inconsistencies (e.g. they say they’re from a certain city but can tell you little about it).

  7. They ask you for money – The inevitable goal of catfishing is to extort money from you. They will make up an emergency or sob story to convince you their situation is real. Common reasons include: medical (needing money for a prescription or surgery), travel (needing money to come see you), for a child (medical emergency or custody/divorce issues), for legal fees, they need help cashing a cheque, they will show you how to invest your money (like in cryptocurrency), and so on. Don’t fall for it! Never send money (in any form) to a stranger (no matter how well you think you know them / how long you’ve been chatting online).

How to avoid being scammed

Some tips to avoid falling prey to a romance scam:

  1. It’s not a relationship if all you’ve done is chatted online. Understand that the real purpose of online dating is simply to connect with people you otherwise wouldn’t. It is not a good way to form a relationship. That must be done in real life…yes, even if you’re shy or introverted!

  2. You can’t know someone is real until you’ve met them in person. And a phone call doesn’t count – they can hire someone to talk to you. So don’t spend weeks and months chatting online. Move to a real date in person within a week to two weeks tops. If they won’t meet you in real life (they usually have a good excuse like work, travel, etc.), stop communicating with them and move on to someone who IS available.

  3. Don’t get swept up in praise and early promises of love. Learn to love and validate yourself so that you’re less vulnerable to someone who’s paying positive attention to you. (For more on this, check out my free training called Loving without Losing.)

  4. Research your date – Do your research to make sure this person is who they say they are. Google their name (and city if it’s a common name). Look them up on Facebook and LinkedIn. Do a reverse Google image search on their photos.

  5. Trust your instincts – Whether meeting live or online, trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. You don’t need to know the reason why…trust yourself and move on!

  6. If someone asks you for money DON’T GIVE IT TO THEM!!! It doesn’t matter how good their reason is, how little the amount is at first, or how much you think you love them. (See below for more on what to do instead.)

  7. Stop over-giving. Don’t share your heart so eagerly with someone you haven’t even met yet. Don’t give money to a stranger. Learn to heal trauma from your childhood and past relationships and raise your self-esteem so that you’re not so vulnerable to these types of people. You are a precious gift, so please start treating yourself like one, and stop giving yourself away so easily to people who don’t deserve you!

What to do if you’ve been catfished

Photo by Pixabay on

If someone asks for money, immediately end all communication and block them. Don’t confront them – this can result in them luring you back, harassing you with threats, or in calling you at a later date pretending to be police or an investigative agency to get MORE money from you.

Save any records of communication with them, then report them to local police and to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. (See Protect yourself from scams and fraud for more on what to do if you’ve been scammed.)

Lastly, be sure to report them to the social media or dating site you were using as well, to help protect other innocent people from becoming victims.

It’s unfortunate that catfishing is out there, but there are many good people online too…you just need to learn what to look out for, take reasonable precautions, and above all else, trust your instincts!


  1. silverliningsblog

    Reblogged this on Silver Linings and commented:

    Adding some updates to this very important topic, to help protect you from online dating scams!

  2. Linda MacLeod

    Thank you so much for your information. I will use it. Yes you are right! I do deserve to treat myself better and use my gut feeling. I’ve been hurt so deeply by so many abusive men in my life I think I’m still too vulnerable. I’m a strong independent women and I’m fine on my own. I’m confident I’ll meet the right man but in person next time.



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About the author

Karen Strang Allen

Karen is a love and empowerment coach for single women. Widowed at 22 and separated at 35, Karen’s mission is to help single women feel great about who they are and create a life they love so they attract their dream partner. 

Learn More about Karen