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China's Online Dating Scams Put Everyone Else's To Shame

Scams
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Every week, someone's in the news with a cautionary tale of online love gone wrong. Online dating critics are quick to point out the threat of scammers, but how big is the risk really?

Apparently a lot bigger if you live in China. A new study of the largest online dating site in China discovered hundreds of thousands of con artists, and their scams are far more intricate than simply lying about their age or adding an inch to their height.

The study, “Quit Playing Games With My Heart: Understanding Online Dating Scams”, is a collaboration between University College London and Jiayuan. Together they analyzed more than 500,000 profiles, drawn from Jiayuan’s 100 million users, which had been flagged as scam accounts.

The most popular scam – fake profiles promoting escort services – will be familiar to users of any dating service in any country. What's really interesting are the more intricate, culturally specific cons.

Take “the flower basket.” In this scam, lonely middle-aged women are targeted by “attracive mid-age men” who contact them and develop an entirely digital romantic relationship. Once a solid connection has been established, the man will imply that he wants to get married, but that his parents require a gesture of goodwill.

He'll then explain that the gesture is an expensive flower basket that can cost as much as $20,000. The man will refer his target to a florist he has teamed up with, who gives him a cut of the money after the purchase is made.

In another surprisingly ingenious scam, a female fraudster is hired by the owner of an expensive restaurant. She joins a dating site and asks a target to take her to the restaurant she's affiliated with. She'll run up an enormous tab (anywhere from $100 to $2,000) during the date, then disappear, never to be heard from again.

“The success rate of this type of scam is much higher [than traditional online scams],” write the researchers, “because the scammer leverages the desire of the victim to meet an attractive woman. In addition, it is likely that the victim will never realise that he has been scammed, since the date really happened, and the victim possibly had a good time.”

It’s also, according to the study, not strictly illegal, so the con artists involved don’t put themselves at much of a risk. That's some seriously next-level scamming.

Just be glad these shakedowns haven't made their way abroad yet. Or have they? Be on the lookout for pricey flower arrangements.