Online Dating Scams In China Make Typical U.S. Catfishing Seem Like a Really Cute Prank

If you've delved into the world of online dating, it's almost certain that you've encountered a sketchy character or two. Maybe a guy messaged you and signed off as "Mike" and then sent you another message weeks later claiming his name is "Ben." Maybe you've gone on a date only to discover that the person you're meeting actually looks nothing at all like his or her pictures. But if these are the only concerns you have, count your blessings: According to a new study of online dating scams, things could be much, much worse, particularly if you live in China.

In a study appropriately titled "Quit Playing Games With My Heart: Understanding Online Dating Scams," researchers from University College London collaborated with Jiayuan, China's largest online dating service. They reviewed more than 500,000 profiles that had been flagged as spam, and the scams they uncovered might make you want to throw your laptop into the nearest body of water and swear off online dating forever. Aside from the popular "escort-services-masquerading-as-fake-profiles" scam that might be familiar to those of us who live in the States, there were several more creative Chinese scammers who really turned things up a notch.

One scam in particular is so genius that it's scary. Step 1: A restaurant-owner hires an attractive woman. Step 2: The woman makes a dating profile. Step 3: The woman contacts a man via Jiayuan, whom she then convinces to take her on a date to the restaurant who hired her. Step 4: She racks up an exorbitant tab, ranging from $100 to $2,000. Step 5: The poor scammed schmuck never hears from her again, and is now significantly less wealthy. Unfortunately, this "date-for-profit" scam has happened to 57, 218 lonely people looking for love, according to the study.

And if you're a lady, beware of the aptly-named "flower basket" scam, in which a "middle-aged man" reaches out to and subsequently woos a lonely middle-aged lady, but their romance, which is strictly online, is really too good to be true. After a fashion, the man will make claims that he "wants to marry" the woman, but says his family requires a gesture of good will — namely, a super expensive flower basket (up to $20,000!) that represents good luck for a fictional new store. The con artist then gives the victim the name of a local florist who he is in cahoots with, and the two share the huge profit while the middle-aged woman is left alone and penniless.

So next time you're feeling down in the dumps about your love life, just be grateful you weren't conned out of thousands of dollars by some creep on Tinder. Let's hope that these new findings don't prompt a wave of similar scams becoming popularized in the US, because Lord knows I can't afford a $20,000 flower arrangement.

Image: Christopher Sessums/Flickr; Giphy