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Dating app red flags that could indicate criminal behaviour

Two mobile phones with dating apps, a heart background and a prison cell background
Image: / Crime + Investigation | Above: A stock image of fictional dating app profile screenshots

Once a niche alternative to chatting up people in real life, online dating apps have become the absolute norm for most singletons. Download an app and within seconds you can be browsing a limitless stream of potential partners.

But being able to rapidly forge emotional connections with complete strangers can come with risks. So, what are the signs that the attractive, charming person on the other side of the screen may have an ominous agenda?

They ask for money

If someone you’ve matched with on an app ever requests money for any reason whatsoever, that’s more than just a red flag. That is perhaps the surest sign that the person you’re speaking to is up to no good.

Cases of people scamming love matches out of money have soared in recent years, with data from Lloyds Bank showing that the average amount lost by victims of romance fraud between 2021 and 2022 was £8,665. The phenomenon came to global attention thanks to the documentary The Tinder Swindler, which revealed how a flashy con man named Shimon Hayut, aka Simon Leviev, talked numerous women into sending him millions in savings and loans.

He followed a typical romance fraud methodology, initially coming across as charming and sincere before claiming that he was in some kind of danger and needed immediate financial help. But other similar scammers may follow a different playbook, so the rule of thumb is that if someone starts requesting money or gift cards, you should smash that unmatch button pronto.

They’re too affectionate too quickly

It goes without saying that everyone wants to feel wanted when dating, but it’s a major red flag if someone starts lavishing you with a lot of affection too quickly. You should be on your guard if, soon after you get chatting with someone, they start to blow up your phone with:

  • Excessive compliments
  • Proclamations of how ‘special’ and ‘different’ you are
  • Elaborate plans for the future before you’ve even met
  • Declarations of love

The best-case scenario here is that the person is idealising or pedestalising you, playing out a romance that’s based more on their preconceptions and personal needs than the reality of you. However, there’s also the rather more sinister possibility that it’s a deliberate ‘love bombing’ campaign, designed to manipulate your feelings and make you emotionally dependent on them.

In the words of Calli Tabeart of Cheshire Police, who helped set up a support group for victims of romance fraud in 2023, ‘victims of romance fraud feel as if they have found a Knight or Dame in shining armour, because they’re getting showered with affection they may not have previously received. But this form of attention can be a form of emotional abuse used to control people. Pressure to find someone increases susceptibility and leaves them even more vulnerable to betrayal.’

You’re not sure what they really look like

Misleading photos are an occupational hazard of online dating, and tales abound of people turning up to a date to find that the person they’ve been chatting to has been using outdated or overly flattering photos. Often, there’s no sinister reason for this unfortunate revelation – the person in question may simply not realise they bear little resemblance to their online images, or they may think a white lie about their true height isn’t that much of a big deal.

But if you come across a profile where the photos are deliberately obscured, mysterious or look overly professional and glossy – ‘too good to be true’ – then you have to ask yourself why this is the case. Is the person hiding their identity on purpose? Are they an outright catfisher? Don’t be afraid to ask for clear photos, or just unmatch and move on. There are, after all, plenty more people to choose from.

They pressure you to move off the app

Some people like to stay chatting within the dating app until after a first meeting. Others prefer to move to WhatsApp, Snapchat or Instagram. However you decide to interact with potential suitors, you should feel free to do it your way, at your own preferred pace.

If the person you’re chatting to puts pressure on you to switch away from the app sooner than you’d like to, that’s a big red flag. Of course, merely asking to switch isn’t a cardinal sin in itself – as long as they happily accept if you’d prefer to stay on the app for the time being.

But if they sound irritated and offended or ask why you don’t want to move to give them your phone number or make you feel guilty for not trusting them, then you should take it as a sign of potentially coercive and controlling behaviour.

They keep putting off meeting in person

People can have hectic lives, and it’s perfectly understandable if they postpone a date for whatever reason. But if it starts to become a recurring habit, with the person always coming up with a reason why they can’t meet you in person, that should set off alarm bells.

It may be a sign that they’re using fake photos or have lied about who they are and their real intentions.

Depending on the dynamic you’ve established, and the kind of relationship you’re both after, it may also be a red flag if they do set a date but are insisting you go straight to their place rather than meeting in public. Proceed with caution, and always tell a trusted friend the address you’re going to.