So, you finally found your perfect match on a dating site. After a few days of pleasant conversation and sparks, they ask you for gifts, money, or identifying information – all red flags for romance scams. While online dating can be fun, you need to know how to identify and protect yourself from scammers.
The anonymity of the Internet makes it easier for scammers to target honest, trusting people who just want to make a connection. Romance scams happen daily on social media platforms, dating websites, and apps – and the scammers can be clever, meaning anybody can fall victim to them.
Let’s dive into what you should know about romance scams, romance scam statistics, and how to protect your heart and wallet from scammers.
What is a romance scam?
Romance scams occur when scammers trick unsuspecting people looking for a romantic relationship into giving them money, gifts, or personal information through deception on social media and dating apps.
Romance scams can also start outside a dating app: scammers may target online games (on mobile or desktop), chat rooms, message boards, and general social media platforms. Scammers may target people who have recently gone through a divorce or loss of a partner to exploit their heightened emotional state.
Scammers sometimes use fake identities to catfish you into believing they are somebody else. Then, they will spend significant time getting to know you, earning your trust, and becoming a love interest.
After they hook their target, these romance scammers will eventually ask for money or sensitive information – like financial account details – which could help them steal your identity. They may also ask you to transfer their stolen money into new accounts, making you an unknowing accomplice in money laundering.
Online dating scam statistics
Romance scams have existed since the dawn of the Internet, but they have gained momentum since the growth of online social media networks and dating apps. Romance scammers are rising because they keep finding new ways to trick people.
Check out some of these romance scam statistics¹:
- Reported losses from romance scams hit $1.3 billion in 2022, with a median reported loss of $4,400.
- 40% of people who lost money to a romance scam last year said the contact began on social media, while 19% said it began on a website or app.
- Of the interactions that started on social media, 29% said they started on Instagram, and 28% said they started on Facebook.
- In 2022, 24% of romance scammers used the following lie to trick victims: “I or someone close to me is sick, hurt, or in jail.”
Common tactics used in romance scams
It’s hard to trust somebody you’ve never met in person, but romance scammers are betting on their victims letting their guards down.
Love scammers will manipulate emotions by:
- Creating fake profiles: Catfishing is a common tactic for romance scammers. They will create a profile with several pictures pulled from somebody else’s social media account to trick their victims.
- Messaging you “accidentally”: Romance scammers often send out-of-the-blue SMS or WhatsApp messages addressed to someone else, then apologize for the mix-up. They seek to strike up a conversation and may refer to connecting with you as “fate.”
- Building trust and emotional connection: It’s not uncommon for scammers to participate in long phone scam calls to build trust and an emotional connection with you.
- Requesting financial assistance: Romance scammers often lie about their financial situation to gain sympathy and steal money. They will claim to be in a hard spot, ask for money, and then suddenly ghost you.
- Using pressure tactics or fake crises: A love scammer may contact you one day with a sudden financial emergency. They’ll request money to help with a financial burden.
Signs of a romance scam
Recognizing key red flags can help you identify if you’re in a romance scam, even if you feel head-over-heels for them. Scammers will often:
- Pretend to live far away.
- Rush into saying, “I love you.”
- Avoid video calls.
- Ask for financial help.
- Have photos that match your interests.
- Make excuses and break promises.
- Ask you to move the relationship off of a dating site.
They claim to live far away
Catfishing scammers will often make excuses for why they can’t meet up in person. They might claim to be overseas for business or military service. They may also say that they’re a doctor with an international organization.
They rush the relationship
For a romance scammer, time is money. Typically, people prefer to take things slowly when getting to know someone and forming a real connection. Scammers will attempt to gain your trust and affection rather quickly. If things feel rushed, they may be trying to take advantage of you.
They avoid video calls or meeting in-person
Catfishers will often try to avoid meeting with you in person or even participating in video calls. Not seeing your date is a huge red flag that you’re experiencing a romance scam. If they agree to a video call, they may use a filter or dark lighting to obscure their face before ending the call early.
If your love interest does agree to meet in person, always meet in a neutral, well-lit, and safe public space.
They ask for financial help or unusual payments
Ultimately, scammers are after your money. They will inevitably ask for financial assistance, usually through a sudden emergency or tragic backstory. Some common claims scammers use to steal your money include:
- Hospital bills
- Travel expenses and visa costs
- Unexpected legal fees
- Car trouble
- Helping family or friends in a tough situation
They might even ask for a personal loan and promise to pay you back, which they likely have no intention of doing.
Scammers often ask you to pay them with gift cards, reloadable or prepaid cards, or by wiring them money because they can get funds quickly and remain anonymous. These transactions are almost impossible to reverse – another reason a scammer might request them.
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’ve already sent them money, immediately report it to your financial institution.
You should also report your experience to the online dating app, website, or social media platform where you met them. Most sites have a customer support team to monitor and respond to reports of dangerous behavior or scamming attempts. See the links below for instructions on reporting a profile:
Always report romance scams to law enforcement agencies. You can file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or your local FBI office. You can also report the crime on the FTC’s website.
How to prevent romance scams: 6 tips to protect yourself
Becoming a victim of a romance scam is both scary and devastating – especially when you thought you made a genuine connection with somebody who turned out to be a scammer. If you feel like the person you’re talking to is scamming you, it’s best to know how to protect yourself.
1. Don’t share personal information
Never share your bank account details, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, addresses, account passwords, or ID information online or with a new love connection. A potential romantic partner shouldn’t need or want this information unless they have fraudulent intentions.
2. Don’t send or transfer money
If you’ve only communicated with someone online or by phone, you should never send money online, including gift cards or wire transfers, no matter the reason.
You also should never trade or invest money based on the advice of someone you have only met online. As mentioned above, scammers will often ghost you after receiving the money they asked for.
Scammers may also ask you to open an account or move money on their behalf, selling you a sob story and asking you to interact with bank personnel for them. This can lead to criminal charges for you – avoid handling money for online connections in any context.
3. Never send compromising photos or videos of yourself
Your online love interest may try to blackmail you using intimate phones or videos they’ve requested from you. Don’t send intimate photos of yourself to anyone you’re just talking to online. Blackmail is a form of financial abuse, and you should take action immediately if this happens to you.
4. Research the person’s photos and profile
Do an online search 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 appear in other places or under someone else’s name. You can also use background searching services, but these services charge a fee and may not always get complete results.
5. Go slow and ask questions
Scammers often try to rush relationships and pressure you into doing something for them. Always use your best judgment, and move at a comfortable pace. Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions about their lives to see if their stories are consistent. If you notice inconsistencies, call them out on it and see how they answer.
6. Only communicate on monitored platforms or official dating sites
Keep communication on a monitored platform, like a dating app, until you’ve met your online flame in person and can verify their identity. Think twice if they immediately ask you to move to a more private form of communication, such as text or email.
Protect yourself (and your finances) online
Romance scams are quite common in the digital age, so be mindful and look out for warning signs, especially if an online connection seems too good to be true.
FAQs about romance scams
Still have questions about romance scams? Find answers below.
How do you know if you’re chatting with a scammer?
If your conversation is too good to be true or if the other party is impatient, you may be chatting with a scammer. They may also deny being able to meet you in person while asking you to share sensitive personal information.
What are some typical scammer behaviors?
Scammers will typically seem overly trustworthy when you first engage with them. If you don’t provide the information they seek or push back on their requests, they may shift their tone entirely and become defensive, irrational, or impatient.
What can a scammer do with my picture?
Scammers can use your picture for blackmail if it contains sensitive images. They may also use your photographs to catfish other people for romance scams.