Here's a couple of templates for contact emails.
The first is if you have been approached by email, you are interested, and the email passes the basic bullshit tests. Your first response will set the tone for the ensuing discussion. You want something like the following:
I am very excited to recieve your email and I am very interested.
However, I have had contacts like this before only to have my hopes dashed.
I have also heard that sometimes people receiving these contacts can unscrupulously take advantage of the person making first contact.
It is in order to protect you as well as me that I want to lay down some ground-rules to remain in force while we get to know each other.
1. Neither of us will ask the other for any money - we both understand that such requests will result in no further contact.
2. Neither of us will send money to the other under any cicumstances.
In addition to this, I would welcome a recent and verifiable photograph of you. The photos you have sent aready are wonderful, but they could be of anyone and taken at any time. It is easy to do: have your picture taken in front of a landmark that I can recognise while you are holding a copy of the local paper for the day your picture is taken. I need to be able to see the headline.
It is usual for the person making first contact to send one of these. Once I have recieved it, I shall send you a similar photo of me.
I feel that honesty is important for building trust in a relationship.
Once point 1 and 2 are agreed to, and the requested photos are exchanged, I feel I will be able to relax more with you.
The more verifiable information we exchange after that, the more we will grow together in trust.
Looking forward to your response;
Notice that the two bullet points will eliminate most scammers from the get-go. It is possible that someone who is genuine will be put off by the suspicion ... but, if so, then you can do without them anyway. The attitude that you are acting to protect the both of you should be inoffensive.
If they don't explicitly agree with the points, insist. The photo is more flexable - there are other ways to satisfy the same demands. But if the contact has a cell phone, though, then they almost certainly have a camera so it is a reasonable request.
Remember - whatever you think of yourself as a "catch", they have approached you - if they are really serious about the contact, then they will provide what you want.
The next one is if you are the person making first contact. Ideally you have already made some contact in social media or other means but you don't have to and you may be reluctant to do this in a public forum anyway. You will certainly have been checking them out online so at the first contact you know more about them than they know about you: it is up to you to make them feel comfortable. The following should be well received by anyone net-savvy:
We havn't met but I have been following you on [named]
I see from your profile that you are interested in romance and dating - I like you so far and I'm game if you are. Please find my public profile [link] , and feel free to research me online before replying. In fact, I urge you to do this.
I know that lots of these sorts of emails are scammers so I want to assure you that I will never ask for money. If you are interested, I am prepared to send you a recent verifiable picture of me so you know I am really real, and we can arrange to continue this via video chat using [service]
It is always scary approaching someone for the first time.
Notice how it compliments the other one - you are anticipating likely suspicions, and responding by being open and checkable. You still need to protect yourself - so do not reveal you phone number or your physical address until the relationship has progressed somewhat. A useful benchmark is to wait for face-to-face meeting and decide after that. Video-chat would count as F2F if you are in different countries.
I've also assumed that your target has openly solicited romance in some other forum - if they have not, then any romantic approach may be unwelcome: be warned. Don't get upset if you are ignored. Don't be in a hurry. Ease up on the pics and personal info. Take no for an answer (no reply = no.)
That should be all you need.