Last Updated on August 17, 2023
Online romances have many potential pitfalls.
Choosing whether to swipe left or right is only the tip of the iceberg. Then again, the road to love is not easy online or in real life, which is why people are willing to try to find “the one” online.
Many people looking for love online just want the process to be easy and safe. Unfortunately, criminals know this and use it to prey on the emotions of their victims.
It’s a lot easier to pull a romance scam when the interactions are digital only. When a criminal steals your identity, takes your money, and breaks your heart – all in one scam, it’s a devastating feeling.
Fortunately, there are a few clues you can use to watch for romance scammers. We’ll provide tips for spotting romance scams and for protecting yourself. Trust us: Once you spot a likely romance scammer, swiping left will feel really, really good.
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What Are Romance Scams?
Whenever someone creates a fake profile on a dating site or contacts you on social media using fake information, all in an effort to strike up a romantic relationship, this is a romance scam.
A few romance scammers may only be looking to trick you for laughs, rather than trying to steal money or personal information. However, the majority of these criminals know that tricking victims through a fake relationship is BIG business.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports Americans lost $547 million in romance scams in 2021. This is an 80 percent increase from the previous year.
That’s an incredibly high number, especially considering only a small percentage of Americans actively use online dating services at any particular time.
At first glance, you might not consider scams involving romantic relationships as dangerous as tax fraud scams, for example. Fraud cases involving taxes certainly are far costlier to the public in terms of total dollars lost. However, it’s worth noting that far more people engage in paying taxes than with online dating apps.
Just like you’d take steps to guard your tax refund from criminals, romance scams deserve a plan of attack to protect yourself, too.
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How Do People Fall Victim to Romance Scams?
Those trying to trick people into falling for romance scams rarely are criminals acting alone. Such criminals often belong to large organizations that have sophisticated means of trying to fool you.
Although you may find it hard to believe that you would ever fall victim to a romance scam, these criminals can be very convincing. They use a wide range of techniques to draw you in and convince you to invest emotionally.
What is it? A criminal signs up for a dating site, using fake information to create a person who would seem interesting to get to know.
How to spot it: A fake profile may look highly polished with basic information. However, when you dig a little deeper, you don’t find much. Fake accounts are often extremely shallow in more sense than one.
How to avoid it: Do a bit of research on the person in the dating app. Do they have social media accounts? Do they have a professional presence on the Internet? If you can’t find anything about the person other than what’s in the dating app, be wary.
What is it? In an effort to play on your emotions, the person running the scam probably will tell you a story of woe and bad luck. By making you feel pity, the scammer knows you’re more likely to eventually send money to help them with their “problem.”
How to spot it: Would you share a horrible life story like this with someone you just met? If not, think about why this person is sharing it with you, especially when you only know each other digitally. Be skeptical.
How to avoid it: If you believe the sob story is fake, press the scammer for specific details. Search the Internet for stories of others who’ve fallen for romance scams and may have heard an oddly similar sob story.
What is it? The online scammer may ask you to send explicit photos or videos of yourself. The scammer may trick you into revealing embarrassing information through chat or through an audio call. If the online “romance” starts to fall through, the criminal then threatens to share your information publicly or with your loved ones unless you send money.
How to spot it: If the other person is asking you to do something or share something that makes you uncomfortable or that you believe could be used to harm you later, trust your intuition.
How to avoid it: Be wary of someone who is asking for explicit photos. Remember, once you share digital photos or videos, the other person could use them for anything and share them with anyone. It’s probably best not to consider sharing such personal things until the relationship is much farther along, including an in-person meeting.
Asking for you to send money
What is it? Ultimately, romance scammers want your money just like most other scammers do. At some point, usually after building a strong relationship with you or after sharing some sort of sob story, the scammer will ask for money.
How to spot it: The criminal almost always will ask for money that is untraceable, like gift cards or a wire transfer. The criminal may become aggressive about the request, especially if you are hesitating or saying you don’t have any extra money to share. Perhaps the scammer threatens to break off the relationship if you don’t send money.
How to avoid it: Don’t send untraceable money to someone you only know through a dating app. If you do send a little bit of money, the scammer may accept this as a starter – more requests for money are almost certainly coming. It’s better to just not start this never-ending cycle.
How to Recognize a Romance Scam
Although criminals who are trying to pull a romance scam are extremely good at hiding their intentions, there are a few clues you can try to find.
The scammer focuses on finances
After building a relationship with you for a while, the scammer eventually will ask for you to send money. The criminal may make up a story designed to evoke pity from you.
Although it’s difficult, try to take emotion out of the equation. Let the request for money sit with no response for a day or two. Then take a fresh look at it. You may start to notice holes in the story that indicate a scam.
Some scammers don’t ask for money right away. However, if the scammer asks early in the relationship how much money you have or make, this is another huge red flag.
Sending money to someone like this – even a small amount of money – is a dangerous step. It shows the scammer that you believe the fake profile. Eventually, the scammer will ask for more and more money. It never stops.
Never wanting to meet
Most people who start in an online relationship will want to meet in person before the romance becomes extremely serious. A scammer, on the other hand, avoids in-person meetings at all costs.
Perhaps the scammer claims to be working outside the country, making it impossible to meet.
Scammers who eventually agree to face-to-face dates may cancel at the last minute for some made-up reason. A single missed date may be understandable. Repeated missed in-person dates are a red flag, especially from someone who claims to want to have a serious relationship with you.
Limited public profile
If the person who is interacting with you is legitimate, you should be able to do some online research and find information about them. If the other person’s online presence seems to be lacking in depth or feels like it recently appeared, this could be a sign of a scammer.
Issues with photos
If the other person shares photos with you or has photos in the dating app, research whether these photos are unique. You can use a few different websites, including Google Images, to reverse search for photographs.
It’s possible the scammer is using the same photos for multiple user names, which your search may reveal.
Here is how to do a reverse image search:
- Click the option for Search by image.
- Then, upload the image to verify its originality.
Look for flaws
No one is perfect. So if someone seems flawless in an online persona – and especially perfect for you and you alone – perhaps that person’s profile is fake. Maybe the scammer is using your publicly shared information to create a connection that seems too good to be real.
How to Protect Yourself From Romance Scams
At this point, it’s important to note that not every person who contacts you through a dating app is a scammer. Many people can use these apps safely and can find romance.
If you want to increase your chances of having a good experience on the dating app, try taking some of these steps to protect yourself from a possible scam related to romance.
Use caution with what you share on social media
The more information about you that is available on social media, the more fuel the romance scammer has. The criminal can use this information to build up the relationship and make it appear that you have much in common.
Use caution about what you share online and about what you keep private.
Share personal information carefully
In the early days of your online relationship, use some caution about what information you share with the person. If you would not feel comfortable sharing certain information on a face-to-face first or second date, don’t share it during an online date.
Stick with more popular apps
If you are using a dating app that has a limited number of other users, the chances of encountering a scammer increase. Although scammers also exist on larger sites, chances are higher that someone else may root out and report the scammer.
Trust your instincts
If something feels off about the online relationship, trust your gut instincts. Someone who seems too good to be true probably is. Someone who is asking questions that are too personal too quickly or questions that are focused on your financials may have ulterior motives.
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What You Should Do If You Believe You’re a Victim of a Romance Scam
If you have any suspicion that a scammer is trying to trick you into a romantic relationship, you should immediately act.
1. End all contact with the scammer
Stop conversing with the person who you believe is scamming you. This can be a very difficult step. It’s easier to convince yourself that you’re being paranoid about the clues that make you feel uneasy. It’s more enjoyable – and less embarrassing – to believe that the romance is real.
If you are unsure, ask a trusted friend or loved one for help. Show them the items that are making you worry and ask them to be honest about what they think.
2. Collect information
Make copies or screenshots of some of the messages you received that make you believe you could be the target of a romance scam. If the scammer starts threatening you, take more screenshots.
Make note of the scammer’s social media profiles, fake names used, payment methods requested (such as gift cards), and any other information you think would help investigators.
3. Stop any payments, if possible
If you made payments to the other person already, see if you can reverse them to stop them. Unfortunately, most romance scammers ask for money in ways that are not traceable or recoverable.
Importantly, do not send any additional money.
4. Protect your personal information
If you shared account data or personal information as part of the romance scam, you may need to change account passwords. If you’re unsure what exactly you shared, change multiple passwords to be safe.
If you shared account numbers or other highly sensitive personal information, freeze your credit with the three credit bureaus. You may want to contact the credit bureaus directly as well to ask them to add a note about potential fraud to your credit reports.
5. Contact the FBI
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the primary investigating body for Internet crime. It runs operations through the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Only submit information through the IC3 website. Do not click links you receive by email that claim to be from the FBI, as this could be another scam.
You should contact local law enforcement, too. However, because these crimes typically occur over state lines or international lines, the FBI will often take control of the case.
If you’re hoping the FBI can recover the money you lost, you probably should keep your expectations low. It is extremely difficult to have a successful recovery, as your money disappears into untraceable accounts almost as soon as you send it.
However, perhaps the FBI can work with other agencies to find and stop the scammer from harming anyone else.
6. Watch for financial recovery scams
It hardly seems possible, but after the romance scam, a new scammer may contact you and offer to try to recover the money you lost through a financial recovery program.
However, this is almost certainly another scam. Perhaps the organization that originally scammed you is now trying a new scam on you. They have a lot of information about you already in hand, which makes the new scam easier to try.
Scammers have no remorse about adding insult to your financial injury after a romance scam steals your money.
7. Consider subscribing to an identity theft protection service
Should you have been a victim of a romance scam in the past, it’s likely that you’ll become a target again in the future. Subscribing to ID theft protection after being the target of a romance scam can alert you to possible problems in the future.
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Emotions Make Avoiding Romance Scams Especially Challenging
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of spotting romance scams is the emotion involved. No one wants to feel foolish by letting another person trick them, especially when it comes to love.
Those who feel lonely, such as seniors, may be especially susceptible to scams, including romance scams.
Emotions can cloud the judgment of the person who’s the target. If you try to alert them to the warning signs, your loved one might lash out at you, refusing to believe you. It can be a very difficult subject to discuss with a family member or friend who’s being victimized.
Try to put yourself in your loved one’s position. Then discuss it in a way that won’t make them feel foolish. Ultimately, patience and compassion can go a long way in trying to help a loved one overcome the emotions and embarrassment a romance scam causes.
Other Types of Scams You Should Know: