The Netflix documentary ‘The Tinder Sindler’ tells the real story of a young man who used a dating social media application and presented himself as a son of diamond factory owner and tricked young women into lending him money that he would never repay.
Once he meets a woman he would give her expensive gifts and take her to dinners in fancy restaurants using money he borrowed from other women he had previously conned. He would then pretend he was being attacked by his enemies who also stole his bank account details.
He then asks the women to take out bank loans and new credit cards in order to help him.
Once they sent the money, he stopped contacting them. According to the documentary, he swindled around $10 million from women from different countries.
Watching this documentary made me wonder, what makes young and often educated women fall for such a trap.
Why would they believe someone they met through an Internet dating app and fall in love with him?
This made me search about the psychology of Internet romance and how people sometimes get emotionally attached to others just by meeting them virtually.
Several psychological explanations were offered for such attachment, some are based on loneliness, lack of intimacy in real life relationships and curiosities.
One particular study showed people were more likely to form a relationship through the Internet when they discover similarities in interest, emotional attachment and general views about the world with the other person.
The Internet makes it easier for people who have social anxiety to prevent them from meeting people face-to-face and the fact that you can remain anonymous or use a fake name makes it easy to express feelings that one would be shy from disclosing them to others.
Another study showed that people often form Internet romance with others from different parts of the world and some eventually meet face-to-face and even get married and have a family.
Despite common beliefs that victims of Internet romance are lonely middle-aged women who are widows or divorced, recent study showed middle aged men who are married but have marital problems so the Internet romance serves as an escape for them.
Some tend to idealise the “virtual partner” simply because their real parent is not fulfilling their emotional needs. While some Internet romance involves sexual behaviour others are emotional only with no sexual element.
So how can one spot real Internet relationships from a scam?
Psychologists warn of few signs that may suggest that you are being scammed. A scammer would prefer to move communication away from dating apps and would ask the victim for their personal contact number earlier in the relationship.
They would also ask lots of personal questions about you but avoid answering when you ask them the same questions.
They usually tend to express their love quickly and use terms like “I never felt so close to someone like this before.”
If you happen to be in the same city they would avoid meeting you in person or cancel at the last minute. Scammers may use emotional blackmail by telling you that they are in urgent need for a surgical operation and they need the money for that.
Finally, while some Internet relationships are genuine, others may be fake and meant to abuse you emotionally and financially, so be vigilant and watch out for scammers.