Digital Dating: spotting the red flags

Published: Feb. 15, 2018 at 5:50 PM CST
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Billions of people across the world are all connected online. But how do you know who you're really talking to?

"The false identity, the predators, it does move a lot faster than normal dating does for some reason," psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner Lindsey Blount says.

Online dating continues to be a great way to meet new people, but it comes with certain risks.

"Because they're lonely, it's just amazing what our mind will do," Doug Tyrone, an investigator with the Mississippi Attorney General's Office, says.

According to the FBI, in 2016, men and women looking for love lost nearly $220 million dollars in confidence fraud or romance schemes.

"They have such sad stories," Tyrone says.

"They can't pay their light bill. They need several hundred dollars," director of Cyber Crime Investigations Jay Houston says." They would love to come visit them, but they would need a plane ticket."

"Just like catfish, they're hooked immediately," Tyrone says. "They say, 'Oh my gosh, I'm so in love with you, and you're just this wonderful person.' It's amazing."

The Mississippi Attorney General's Office has detectives dedicated to investigating these types of cyber crimes. Tyrone and Houston say online dating scams happen all too often, but they can be avoided.

"There's a lot of things that people can do to keep themselves from becoming victims of that," Houston says.

First, if you're looking for love online, keep in mind which site you're using. Dating sites like eHarmony or Match require you to fill out questionnaires and often charge a fee upfront. Social media is a much easier place for scammers to target.

"You don't know from Facebook," Blount says. "Facebook, you could have a predator. You don't know anything about them. All you have is a picture, which is sometimes false identity."

Second, do your homework.

"There's a huge difference between being a stalker and doing background," Houston says.

"Make sure that you're doing a thorough check on these people before, because there are a lot of risks that come with it because you don't know these people," Blount says.

And third, watch out for the red flags.

"If you're constantly texting, but never talking on the phone, that would be a red flag," Houston says.

Profiles that were only recently created and cropped photos that don't look right are red flags. Not keeping regular hours of a job is a red flag.

"They start asking for money, that's immediately a red flag," Houston continues.

Just remember to stay cautious, but don't lose hope for finding your happily ever after online.