In 2020, over $300 million were lost in romance scams. These scams are when a criminal pretends to be a potential romantic interest, earns your trust, and then asks for money. Once they have your money, they disappear. Since this kind of scam is on the rise, it’s best to be aware of what these criminals try to do, and how you can avoid becoming a victim.
The Steps of a Romance Scam
Many of the online dating scams out there right now follow specific steps. These steps help build your trust quickly and convince you to part with your money before you know what’s going on. Those steps are:
1. The criminal makes a fake profile.
This profile will be the front through which the scammer makes their moves. The page is usually set up to make the persona seem enticing or welcoming in some way. The criminal will use attractive photos pulled from somewhere online and put enough effort into the profile to make it seem like it’s real. The goal is to make the profile feel almost too good to be true.
2. The criminal reaches out and tries to make romantic moves quickly.
Once the dating profile is done, the scammer then goes out and messages a bunch of people. This way, they can cast a wide net and try to attract as many people as possible to their scam.
If someone responds, the scammer tries to move the online relationship as fast as possible. The scammer will try tactics like professing their love and taking conversations off-platform to build your trust with them.
3. Once trust is established, they ask for your help.
When you’re talking off the dating platform, the scammer will then make their ask. Usually, this ask is made in the form of a cry for help, where the scammer will say they need your help paying for something. This ‘bill’ from the scammer could be transportation fare to see you, medical expenses for themselves or someone else, or even startup funds for a business venture. The ask is designed to pull at your heartstrings and make you want to help them.
4. The scammer runs off with your money.
The money now in the scammer’s hands, they then do exactly what you’d expect: leave and never come back. The scammer will do everything they can to block any more conversations once they have your money so that you have a hard time tracking them down and getting the money back.
How To Avoid Getting Scammed
Now that you know what the steps for the scam are, the next thing for you to do is protect yourself against romance scams. There’s general Internet safety advice to give out here, like never giving out personal info to a stranger. However, let’s look at some tips for avoiding dating scams specifically:
Approach Online Relationships Slowly
It’s exciting to have a new romantic interest reach out to you, but that’s not an excuse to be hasty. It’s important to stick with your online conversations for a while to make sure that the person on the other end is authentic. A persona can only last for so long, so the idea here is to outlast the scammer’s patience.
Do A Phone/Video Call Early
Since everyone sounds the same in written text, it’s easy to hide your identity online. However, a phone or video call to confirm the other person’s voice and face match what their profile shows are an easy way to make sure you’re talking to a real person. Do this as early as you can in order to avoid yourself heartache and headache.
Research Your ‘Romantic Interest’
Just as the scammer uses photos online to make up a profile, you can search around to see if the person you met online is real, too! Use reverse image searches to find where profile pictures come from. Also, you can run the person’s name through a search engine to see what comes up and verify your interest’s identity.
Get A Second Opinion
When in doubt, get someone else to look things over. See if a friend, family member, or coworker thinks if a conversation sounds weird or too good to be true. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the emotions of dating. So, having a third party make sure you’re on the right track is always helpful.
What’s important here is that you stay safe while searching for a special someone. Online dating is a wonderful tool that has helped millions of people meet partners. But, criminals are trying to take advantage of this tool for their benefit, at the cost of yours. Stay mindful, and follow the tips above to stay safe while dating!