How To Protect Yourself Against Online Dating 'Sextortion'
Crafty scammers on dating platforms possess a keen sense of human vulnerabilities. Here's how to keep yourself safe.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | November 19, 2023
While dating apps are a ubiquitous fixture in the dating scene, this digital avenue for romance is not without its pitfalls. Deception is rife, with a study published in the Personality and Social Psychological Bulletin revealing that many online daters present an enhanced facade, particularly when it comes to physical attributes.
While a touch of embellishment in a dating profile might be brushed off as trying to put one’s best foot forward, there’s a more sinister side to the deception that unfolds in the online dating ecosystem.
Unlike simple exaggerations, scammers are known to use sophisticated tactics to ensnare and exploit unwary love-seekers, engaging in what is increasingly known as “sextortion.” This worrying trend sees deceivers using emotional leverage to coerce individuals into sharing personal and often sensitive information or images, which can then be used as a means of extortion. The consequences for the victims can range from financial loss to severe emotional distress, making it a phenomenon that is of growing concern for those navigating the online dating world.
Here are two ways to protect yourself when looking for love online.
1. Don’t Be Lulled Into A False Sense Of Security
Extortionists on dating sites or apps tend to concoct elaborate backgrounds to enhance their appeal, but inconsistencies in their stories can be a giveaway. If something seems off or the individual offers conflicting information, it could be a sign of falsehoods.
In these situations, the first step is to thoroughly examine the online profile.
- Pay attention to inconsistencies, such as disparities between the person’s claimed identity and the information provided.
- Look for signs of photo manipulation, like overly polished or professional images or a lack of candid or unaltered photos.
- Be wary of overly flattering or seductive language that may be designed to lure you into a false sense of trust.
Also, some scammers may pretend to offer up “too much” information and pressure you to reciprocate. For example, a new match may “accidentally” send you a screenshot of their home address and then act mortified. Or, they might reveal more skin than they “wanted to” in a picture they sent to you. They may then demand that you follow suit to level the playing field. In reality, such a “mistake” may have simply been a charade in an attempt to gain your trust.
When you do choose to offer up any information or pictures, do so on your own terms and don’t succumb to demands. If you feel threatened or pressured to share things you are not comfortable with, block them and move on. If there is any morphing of pictures or sextortion involved, report the profile and get a trusted friend involved right away, followed by the authorities.
2. If Something Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is
Research suggests that scammers carefully use their language and communication techniques to fabricate false information and construct believable false identities, often exploiting emotional vulnerabilities to lower your guard.
For example, if someone you matched with seems to be exactly what you are looking for, there is a chance they could be making up a persona as they go. With every bit of information they learn about you, the more fuel they have to manipulate you. Scammers may specifically do it to gain your trust and manipulate you into divulging confidential information or extort money.
In such scenarios, your instincts can be a reliable guide. If you feel someone is being evasive or dishonest, especially when asked specific questions, trust your intuition. Do this fairly early on during your interaction with a new match, as scammers tend to latch onto your emotions with time and manipulate how you feel. Before emotionally investing into who you are talking to, attempt to investi-date the person.
Always remember, if an interaction makes you uneasy, that in itself is a good reason to withdraw. Unmatching is expected on dating sites and apps, and there isn’t a need to engage just to be polite.
Online dating is all about being vigilant without being paranoid. Assertiveness in the face of potential deception is essential for your safety. The key is to navigate these digital waters with a healthy dose of skepticism. If you do encounter a sextortionist, don’t give in to their demands, as it only sends the message that you are vulnerable. Keep your wits about you and trust in your ability to discern truth from deception. With a strong sense of self and a clear understanding of the risks, you can enjoy the world of online dating without falling prey to its pitfalls.