CHARLOTTE — Millions of Americans are looking for love online.
The Federal Trade Commission says scammers will prey on victims, tugging at their heartstrings to get them to send money.
Technology is certainly a key factor in the lives of students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. It’s also important in their dating lives.
“It’s very digital for one thing,” student Logan Sink said. “Often times, you meet people on apps.”
“You can feel you connect with someone online,” student Jessica Stanley said. “Then you meet in person and it suddenly gets like really awkward when it’s face-to-face.”
“It was kind of awkward meeting people in person after meeting them online,” student Abigail Leonard said. “That was a weird switchover.”
Many adults are looking for love in the digital age. The Pew Research Center found 3 in 10 adults in the United States say they’ve used an online dating app.
That number jumps to 5 in 10 people for adults ages 18 to 29. About half of those people say they have come across someone on a dating app they believe was a scammer.
Logan Sink admits he’s been skeptical.
“Sometimes, people aren’t real. And there are ways to tell if they are authentic, whether it is an actual person or someone who is pretending to be someone,” he said.
Jan Barefoot is with Barefoot Professional Investigations. She told Channel 9′s Erika Jackson that her team handles hundreds of domestic-related investigations every year.
“The rise of online scams is just incredible,” she said. “It’s just exponentially grown over the last five to 10 years.”
She said she’s seen an increase in clients victimized by scammers.
“Our main goal is, is this person real? And are they in this situation that they’re telling you they are in?” she said. “The biggest red flag is when they start asking for money.”
Barefoot said there are simple ways to vet a person before you go on your first date. Erika Jackson brought her a dating app profile to see what she could dig up, and she recommended searching for his other online profiles using his first name, age, and the company he works at to make sure they all match.
“Once we have his last name — and he has somewhat uncommon of a last name — we can pivot to many different points,” she said. “So I can start into looking for other social media profiles. Do I see a Facebook page that shows he might have a wife and a family?”
Though that profile didn’t appear to have any, Barefoot shared some red flags to look out for.
“If the red flags are there and they’ve never FaceTimed with you, they never met you, and they’re asking for money, you don’t need to pay an investigator,” she said.
Barefoot does recommend hiring a private investigator to complete what’s called a “comprehensive background check” when you’re thinking about taking your relationship to the next level. Think of it as a deeper dive into someone’s past.
It’s not cheap; it could cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
“We find the areas that the individual has lived in and then we’re going to do each of those searches in those areas. We’re going to do criminal record search, we’re going to do civil lawsuits and judgments, so we’re going to get a little bit of a financial picture of what this person’s lifestyle is,” she said.
Barefoot said the best tool people can use is also free: Intuition.
“You can’t find them on other social media platforms, or the profile pictures don’t match, or there’s just red flags, you just know at that point you shouldn’t move forward with that relationship,” she said.
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