If you are looking for love online, you may well find it. Every day, more and more people are joining the search, and thousands can now testify to happy, lasting relationships that have formed as a result. Sadly, thousands more have fallen victim to online dating scams.

Here are secrets to spotting these scams, as well as specific ways you can protect yourself.

Online dating scams take a variety of forms, but they have one thing in common: money. If you have met a genuine person in your search for online romance, it should be a long time before the subject of money comes up.

But people who may be working a scam will try to raise the issue as soon as possible. They may take a few weeks to try and seduce you, often through email and chat, but they can afford to invest only so much time in any one possible target.

So, if the subject of money comes up relatively quickly with a prospective partner, you should be wary.

The subject of money can take many forms. Some people may will ask you straight out for cash donations (often to help them deal with supposed emergencies) but others will be more subtle.

Often the money you stand to lose will take the form of payments to what seems like a third party, as in telephone online dating scams. Telephone dating scams often involve the prospective partner asking you to call him or her on a particular number, which is secretly charging you several dollars per minute. These scams can cause you to run up huge phone bills, but because you do not see your bill immediately you may not realize what is going on until you are already in serious trouble.

One of the most common scams is a variation on the ‘Nigerian’ scam, which you may well have encountered before in email. In this online dating scam, the person whom you have an interest in, who often claims to be living in an African country, will tell you that he or she has received some money in the form of money orders that can not be cashed there. The person will then ask you to cash the money orders in your bank and wire the money. The money orders will be forgeries and you may even find yourself charged by your bank for submitting them; however, they can take several weeks to process, so many people fall for these online dating scams and wire the money before they find out what is truly going on.

If the person you have met online lives far away, one of the most tempting ways to spend money is on travel, to enable them to visit you. Many online dating scams take advantage of this with set-ups that enable this prospective partner to pocket the money.

You can avoid these online dating scams by never sending cash and never allowing the other person to determine exactly what travel arrangements or agencies will be used.

While you should not allow these scams to put you off when looking for love online, it is important to be aware of them. Remember that any genuine person you meet will know about these scams, too. If they care about you, they will respect your need to be careful.