Online dating has risen in both popularity and credibility in the past few years. What was once commonly seen as the last resort of desperate, lonely people has now become a high-dollar industry that helps people around the world find genuine relationships. Unfortunately, the rise of internet dating sites and their widespread acceptance means more and more scammers are using that approach to find victims.

There are a few ways that you can spot a scam before you become a victim, though. By being smart about protecting yourself and your information, you can keep a scammer at bay.

1. Too close, too soon – In any online relationship, be careful of individuals who want to take things a little too fast. It might be that they start using pet names, talk of long-term relationships, or insist on sharing personal details or photographs too soon. At the same time, if they are too quick to invite you to talk to them outside the dating platform—meaning your communications are not accessible by the site that connected you—be very concerned.

2. Phone is no guarantee – Believe it or not, there are customer service call centers that scammers can subscribe to in order to make phone calls to their victims. Just as a company can hire a phone service to take phone messages or handle customer service requests, scammers can hire shady phone services to pose as your new boyfriend or girlfriend on the phone. That’s why speaking on the phone is no guarantee that this relationship is valid.

3. Odd situations that prevent connecting – It’s inconvenient to have your new victim constantly harassing you just to talk about their day, which is why so many common romance scams involve individuals who are not near a computer during their jobs. What does that mean? Jobs like off-shore oil rig worker, long distance truck driver, and even worse, US soldiers deployed overseas are all common tactics for scammers. With so many victims to keep straight in their phony relationships, they can’t devote all their time to you; be careful of an online relationship involving someone whose job keeps them away from communication for days at a time.

4. And then the money request… – Inevitably, the real reason for the scam comes out: a request for money. It could be needing funds to come visit you, funds to keep their (non-existent) child out of trouble, a request for you to use “their” bank account to help them out of a bind, or even outright extortion if you’ve sent them compromising photos of yourself. No matter how it plays out, the ultimate goal in a romance scam is to take your money.

In any relationship, whether face-to-face or online, if you’re asked to hand over money or personal information without some form of legitimate, legal commitment, be careful. It should make you think twice, and make you cautious about the relationship as a whole. Don’t waste your time on scammers who want to cause you and your finances harm; just remember that there are real, viable relationships to be made online, and be smart about protecting yourself.

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