Online dating scams - how to date online safely and happily and avoid the notorious 419 scam

Stay connected to your money and your happiness

Avoid the scams! We expose the online dating scams you should all be aware of - the little-known darker side of online dating that the online dating business doesn't want you to know about!

In this article we explain the common Nigerian 419 scam - what it is, how to spot it, and what to do if you think you're being scammed.

What is the Nigerian 419 scam?

Named after a now-defunct Nigerian law the 419 scam is a classic amongst online dating scams. This is the one scam you are almost certain to come across if you do online dating for any length of time, sorry to say. This scam is also known as AFF or Advanced Fee Fraud, and it comes in many shapes and sizes. But there are unifying themes:

  • you are approached on your online dating site by somebody from abroad, or who claims to live in the UK but work abroad - usually Nigeria, but also quite often countries such as Ghana, Ivory Coast, and other west African countries. Often they claim to be soldiers posted overseas in war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq.
  • you are befriended, over time, and trust is built between you and the scammer
  • the scammer reveals their need for money for some plausible-sounding reason and makes you believe you're the only one in a position to pay it
  • you send money
  • you never hear from them again, or worse, you are asked for more, and more, and more money

You may have received emails in your inbox with strange, unsolicited business proposals, perhaps asking you for help moving money in or out of Nigeria. Money that was over-invoiced, or left in a will unclaimed. The online dating 419 scam works in a similar way, though it's usually adapted to maximise the opportunity online dating provides, in these ways:

  • the scammers know you're looking for love and your defences could be down
  • on online dating sites which force you to pay, you have put trust in the site to filter out these scammers - WRONG! - many sites don't care if scammers are using their services, and what's more almost 100% of payments made to online dating sites by scammers are made using stolen credit card details (so the dating site has been scammed already, and so has some poor unsuspecting credit card fraud victim)
  • the scammers know you are single and looking for love so they pretend to be your dream date
  • the scammers have all the time in the world to build a relationship with you - it could be months or even up to a year before the scammer "reveals" himself by asking for the first batch of money
  • the scammers know you are single so you might not have a support group of people around you that you could "sanity check" a new friend with

We have found that the online dating version of the 419 scam tends to involve smaller amounts of money than the classic 419 scams, which usually involve millions of dollars. It's money you could afford to pay. Here are some common examples:

  • the scammer asks for money for an advance on their wages ("I won't get paid until my contract is finished and I have run out of money")
  • the scammer invents a medical emergency in their family ("My mother is in need of an operation and needs £300 to pay for it")
  • the scammer urgently needs a plane ticket to the UK for reason ("My mother is ill and I need to see her before she dies")
  • the scammer needs money to tide them over while they complete their university degree
  • the scammer desperately needs money to buy a mobile phone ("My mother is dying and I need to speak to her urgently")
  • the scammer claims to need you to authorise army leave for them, for which you have to pay

Or any variation on the above. The reasons for needing the money will sound plausible and reasonable. STOP! Do not be separated from your money - you'll never see it again, and you'll never see the person you sent it to.

How do you spot the 419 scam?

Here are some tell-tale signs that you've been approached by a scammer:

  • the person who is approaching is brand new to the web site, has only logged in a few times, or logs in very rarely
  • the profile is written in poor, broken English
  • the photograph is fake-looking, or obviously fake, or copied from somewhere on the Internet
  • photograph is of military personell or man/woman in army/navy uniform
  • the photograph is of a too-good-to-be-true young woman or man or is obivously a posed photo of a model
  • your correspondent asks you to go straight from on-site messaging to Instant Messaging (IM), or regular email (they don't want the evidence of their scamming to be visible to the site administrators as they will normally be kicked off)
  • you receive a message describing any of the outlandish situations I've outlined above out of the blue
  • the scammer claims to normally live in your country but is currently working abroad or posted in the army abroad

Bear in mind that any of these characteristics can apply to genuine online dating site members as well, so just because one or two of these tell-tale signs is present doesn't necessarily mean you're being scammed - but be on your guard.

What to do if you've been scammed?

If you are in a correspondence with somebody who fits the description above and you suspect they are a scammer, here's what to do.

  • DO NOT enter into any further correspondence with them once they have revealed themselves as a scammer by asking you for money. Don't feel guilty about this (incredible, but some of us are SO polite we feel bad about not replying to messages from criminals)
  • DO report the person to the online dating site (if this happens to you on this site report it to us straight away using our contact form)
  • DO NOT SEND MONEY, no matter how plausible the story is, no matter how long you've been corresponding with the person, no matter how much you feel they are trustworth, no matter how confident you feel that they are telling the truth
  • just in case you didn't get that

If you have already sent money to somebody abroad, the chances are you have been scammed. Unfortunately the chances of your getting the money back are very slim indeed. However, you should go to the Police and let them know. They will be able to advise you further.

Why don't online sites filter out scammers?

Some sites do (we do on this site, of course). Some unscrupulous online dating sites don't filter for scammers because they feel that the more messages going through the system, the better, no matter what the quality of the correspondence is.

Sites like Midsummer's Eve do filter of course, but we can only filter about 95% of scammers using our automated and manual checking systems. We rely on members reporting scammers to us. Usually the scammers will conduct their business having lured you away from the site and onto regular email or instant messaging. This is to avoid detection by the online dating site. Nevertheless we have our own checklist of tell-tale signs which we can use to judge if the person you're reporting to us is likely to be a scammer, so feel free to report away.

How likely are you to be scammed?

If you have been a user of online dating sites for any length of time, the chances of your being approached by a scammer using the 419 technique are very high indeed.

What have you learned?

Be on the lookout for 419 scammers, conduct your correspondence through the online dating site itself, not via email or IM, learn the tell-tale signs, and above all:


One last thing: online dating really does work, and is perfectly safe, great fun, and potentially hugely rewarding. Don't let the scammers worry you, just avoid them and you'll be fine.

Further information

Go Met Police information on 419 scams