Forming connections with people online or through apps is becoming more commonplace these days. During the past decade, the demand for online dating services has increased significantly, and more people are finding love online. This trend has only been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic as people are feeling more lonely and isolated from the outside world. While online dating can be a fun and effortless way to connect with a large pool of people, it can also leave you vulnerable to scammers.
The anonymity that the internet provides makes it all too easy for criminals to scam people out of their money, and when compounded with matters of the heart, this can be a very destructive combination. Take, for example, the Netflix documentary, “The Tinder Swindler,” which tells the story of a con man who stole millions of dollars from women he deceived on Tinder. Scams like this are happening every day on social media platforms, dating websites, and apps. Online fraudsters can be very clever, and anyone can fall victim to a romance scam.
Here are a few things you should know so you can better protect your money and your heart from a scammer.
What Is a Romance Scam?
A romance scam, or online dating scam, involves a scammer leading a person to believe that they are interested in love or a relationship in order to receive gifts, steal money, or manipulate a victim. Romance scams can take place in person, but the vast majority of them occur online, usually through a social media site, dating website, or app.
Some romance scammers may use a fake online identity to catfish the other person into believing they are someone they aren’t. Typically, dating scammers spend time getting to know you so they can earn your trust and ultimately become a love interest. Eventually though, the time will come when the scammer will ask you for money or sensitive information, such as bank account details — which could help them steal your identity. They may also ask you to transfer money for them, but in reality, the money is stolen, and you are helping them launder it.
Online Dating Scam Statistics
Romance scams are nothing new, but with the growth of online social platforms and dating apps, scammers have found a new way to hoodwink people for money. In fact, scamming under the guise of love and connection seems to be getting worse.
Check out some of these 2021 stats from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
- People lost a reported $1.3 billion to romance scams in the past 5 years, which is more than any other FTC fraud category — 2021 alone saw a record high loss of $547 million.
- Romance scams increased among all ages in 2021, with people 70 years and older reporting the highest median losses at $9,000 per case.
- The most common way romance scammers were paid was with gift cards; victims reported losing $36 million on gift card purchases in the last year.
- The largest reported losses came from payments made in cryptocurrency, which accounted for $139 million in losses, with the median reported loss of $9,770.
How to Outsmart a Romance Scammer
It should come as no surprise that finding love online comes with its risks, but even those who aren’t online for the motive of romance can be solicited by scammers. Private messages on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can also lead people to being scammed and coerced into sending a criminal money.
On the surface, a romance scammer can appear very sincere. The way they present themselves and the things they say may seem convincing, but ultimately, most romance scammers follow the same formula when trying to wiggle their way into your heart for money. Once you can identify what these common patterns and warning signs are, you’ll be better prepared to defend yourself and safeguard your finances.
Signs of a Romance Scam 🚩
Be on the lookout if anyone you are engaging with online demonstrates these red-flag behaviors:
- Living or traveling in another part of the country or world — If a scammer is catfishing you, they’ll often have a reason why they can’t meet up in person. Some common claims may be that they are overseas for business or military service or that they are a doctor with an international organization.
- Professes love quickly or rushes into a relationship — Typically, people prefer to take things slowly when it comes to getting to know someone and forming a real connection, but for a romance scammer, time is money. They’ll want to gain your trust and affection rather quickly. If things feel rushed, it could be an indicator that something is amiss.
- Photos and profile(s) appear like they share your interests — It’s very easy to fake photos online, either by stealing someone else’s photos or by using image editing software — not everything is as it appears online. Romance scammers spend time getting to know you, so if your interests seem to line up just a bit too perfectly, then consider that it might actually be too good to be true.
- Asks for financial help — Scammers are after your money, so they will inevitably ask for some kind of financial assistance. Oftentimes these scammers will come up with a tragic story or emergency reason for why they need the money. Some common claims are that they need money for an emergency, such as hospital bills, travel, or an unexpected legal fee. They might ask for a loan and promise to pay you back, but odds are they have no intention of paying you back in full or at all.
- Claims to be an investor — Instead of feigning an emergency for money, some scammers will claim to be savvy investors who want to help you earn money by investing in some made-up scheme. For example, they may try to get you to buy cryptocurrency through an investment website, but in fact, it’s all a ploy to get you to send them money.
- Request that money is sent anonymously — Scammers will often ask you to pay with gift cards, reloadable cards, or by wiring them money because they can get cash quickly and remain anonymous. These types of transactions are almost impossible to reverse, which is another reason why a scammer might request them.
- Makes a lot of excuses and broken promises — Scammers might make promises that they can’t keep, and when you ask about them, they always have some sort of excuse. The excuses might seem believable at first but can gradually get convoluted and inconsistent. If a potential love interest you met online can’t give you straight answers to your questions, or they get defensive when you ask, it could be a sign they aren’t being honest with you.
- Asks you to move the relationship off the dating site — Many dating sites monitor users for unusual or suspect activity, so a scammer might try to get you off the site and onto a platform that’s less monitored. They might ask you to engage in instant messaging, email, text, or phone calls to continue the conversation in a more “private” setting.
Tips for Avoiding a Romance Scam 👀
Follow these helpful tips to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of a romance scam:
- Don’t send or transfer money — If you’ve only communicated with someone online or by phone, you should never send money, gift cards, or wire transfers to them, no matter the reason. You also should never trade or invest money at the advice of someone you have only met online.
- Don’t share sensitive personal information — Never share bank account details, credit card numbers, your Social Security number, your home or work address, account passwords, or ID information online or with a new love connection. There’s no reason a potential romantic partner should need or want this type of information unless they have fraudulent intentions.
- Talk to friends or family — It can be difficult to spot a dangerous situation when you’re in it, so speaking to a third party, like a friend or family member, can help you put things into perspective. If you’re talking about a new love interest to someone you trust, and they seem concerned, hear them out as they might be onto something.
- Be careful what you post and make public online — Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you. Consider making your social media profiles private and/or be extra vigilant about who you befriend and talk to online.
- Research the person’s photos and profile — Use online searches to see if the image, name, or details on someone’s profile have been used elsewhere. You can start by doing a reverse image search on Google to see if the photos show up in other places or under someone else’s name. You can also use a background searching service, such as BeenVerified, TruthFinder, and PeopleLooker, but these services charge a fee to use.
- Never send compromising photos or videos of yourself — If someone you’re talking to online requests that you send them intimate photos or videos of yourself, they may try to use that content to blackmail you.
- Go slowly and ask questions — Scammers will often try to rush into things and pressure you into doing something for them. Always use your best judgment, and move at a pace you are comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Don’t leave the monitored platform too quickly — It’s best to communicate through a monitored platform, such as a dating app, until you’re able to verify the legitimacy of the person in question. Be hesitant if they ask you to move to a more private form of communication, such as text or email, especially right away.
- Look for any unusual or inconsistent writing styles — Some scammers work in groups but pose as a single person. So abrupt changes in the way the person speaks, such as in their grammar or tone, could indicate that you are actually speaking to multiple people.
How to Report a Romance Scam
If you suspect an online relationship is a scam, stop all contact immediately, and block them from your dating and social platforms. If you have already sent money, immediately report it to your financial institution.
You should also report your experience to the online dating app, website, or social media platform on which you met them. Most sites have a customer support team to monitor and respond to reports of dangerous behavior or scam attempts. See below for links to instructions on how to report a profile on top social networks:
And make sure to report romance scams with law enforcement agencies. You can file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or your local FBI office. Also, report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
What are some questions to ask a potential romance scammer?
There are a ton of questions you could ask someone you’ve met online if you suspect them of being a scammer. These questions may not guarantee that you’ll spot a scammer, but they could reveal some red flags. Questions can range from more basic getting-to-know-you questions to relationship-focused questions. To get a better idea of the types of questions to ask, check out this article from Romancescams.org.
What are the most common romance scammer tactics?
There are many tactics a romance scammer can use to fool you. Most romance scammers want money or your financial information to fraud you. Some scammers might ask you for money in the form of gift cards or wire transfers. Some might ask for gifts or try to lure you into a fake investment opportunity. And some might ask you to perform a service, which on the surface seems harmless, but is, in fact, illegal. Remember that scammers will go to any lengths to manipulate you and make you feel special. They will often shower you with words of love and affection and may impersonate other people to gain your trust. Review the red flags listed above, and always remain vigilant when talking to someone you met online.
Online dating scams can be very detrimental not only to your finances but also to your emotional wellbeing. Romance scams often end with victims losing money, but on top of that, they can leave people with broken hearts and feelings of shame. If you’ve fallen victim to a romance scam, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed; it could happen to anyone. Take the lessons you learned from it and use them to empower and educate others.