Romance can bloom anywhere. These days, it often occurs on dating and social media sites. But before you fall in love, let’s consider some scary statistics.
The FTC reports that people lost more money on romance and dating scams in the last three years than on any other form of fraud. In 2020 alone, romance scammers stole $305 million. That is a 50% increase over 2019!
According to the FBI, victims of romance fraud come from all ages, education, and income brackets. Devastated victims can take years to recover – both financially and emotionally.
What is an Online Dating or Romance Scam?
In an online dating or romance scam, the scammer makes the victim believe she has a romantic relationship with the person she met online.
The scammers can meet their victims on websites, dating apps, or other forms of social media. They may contact their victims by phone, email, chats, or messaging. This cybercriminal uses a fake identity and pretends to be a prospective romantic companion to gain the trust of their victims. Then they persuade or blackmail their “loved one” into sending cash, providing personal and financial information, purchasing items, or even laundering money.
Romance Scammer Tactics
Scammers usually engage victims by creating fake online profiles. The person may use a fictional name or take on the identity of a real, trustworthy person, such as people working in the military or other individuals working abroad.
Scammers create appealing and sympathetic personas. They often use new products or services, new technology, and major events to make their stories more convincing. The scam works because it looks like the real deal, and you aren’t expecting it to be fake.
What are the Signs of an Online Dating Scammer
It is often challenging to identify romance scams, though you can keep an eye out for warning signs.
Keep it Private
If the scammer meets you on a dating or social media site, they will push you to move your conversation to a more private channel. That’s because most websites watch activity to spot scammers, and the scammers don’t want to get caught.
Love at First Chat
The romance scammer will come on strong and “fall in love” too quickly. Love is the easiest emotion to take advantage of, and their only job at this point is to get you to fall in love with them.
The scammer will shower you with loving words, compliment you and even send you gifts. They will find ways to force emotional intimacy, such as telling you personal information and secrets.
Who are you?
You may notice that their profile or social media pages are not consistent with what they tell you. For example, they may say they have a U.S. college education, but their messages are often poorly written. Some may also provide excuses as to why they can’t use video chat. They don’t want to expose themselves.
Where are You?
You never meet in person. Sometimes the fraudulent lover will say they live nearby but are away on business or visiting family. Like any liar, they always have a good excuse at hand as to why they can’t meet. Typically, they are overseas and are unable to afford to come back to meet you in person.
Show Me the Money
After gaining your love and trust and your defenses are down, the real reason for the relationship surfaces. They want money.
Why? Any excuse will do, and the more desperate, the better. Legal troubles, medical care (for a baby, maybe?), coming to visit – any elaborate story that works.
Some scammers will tell you they need to transfer a large amount of money or gold out of their country. You can have a share if only you pay for the administrative fees or taxes.
Any story that will get you to send money, gifts, bank account details, or credit card info. If you don’t immediately agree to their demands, they may become more desperate, persistent, and direct. If you do agree, the scammer will always ask for more.
Breaking the Law
There are other scams than the straightforward cash grab. Perhaps they will send you expensive gifts such as laptop computers or mobile phones and ask you to gift something back to them. The scammer might ask you to buy the gifts yourself and send them to some other location.
With another popular scam, they have you deposit a check into your bank account and then transfer the funds to someone else by wire, gift card, or Bitcoin. The scammer may even tell you to keep a little of the transaction for yourself.
These people will make up some reason for why they need you to participate in these actions, but, in the end, this is a way for them to get away with their crimes.
The goods are stolen, the checks fraudulent, and you will lose the money you spent on expensive purchases, wire transfers, gift cards, and Bitcoin. Plus, you may be guilty of money laundering, which is a criminal offense.
Some scammers will try to get your personal information – for example, the name of your primary school, mother’s maiden name, or your social security number. Scammers can use the data to hack into your banking and credit card accounts or steal your identity.
Getting Way Too Personal
They may also ask for pictures or videos of yourself, possibly of an intimate nature. Your loving gesture can quickly turn into a blackmail nightmare when they threaten to share the compromising images.
Since dating and romance scammers are often part of international crime networks, they can pose a risk to your safety. Some scammers may attempt to trick their victims into coming overseas, which puts them in dangerous situations that can lead to tragic outcomes.
You Got Scammed. Now What?
No matter how you got scammed, you could end up losing a lot of money that is near impossible to get back from the scammer. You may also feel an intense emotional betrayal from someone you thought loved you.
Take action now to protect yourself and prevent scammers from finding their next victim.
Stop the Scammer
- Report the scammer’s profile and messages to the social media platform or dating app where you first met. Tell them the scammer’s profile name and other details so they can stop the scammer from finding additional victims.
- File a report with the FTC.
- Report the scam activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center or your local FBI field office.
- Do not interact with the scammer but keep a record if he comes to your door, calls you, or sends you a message. Then report it.
- If you feel threatened, report this to the police immediately by calling 911.
- Contact your bank to ensure the security of your accounts. Request that they contact any financial institutions that issued or received fraudulent or suspicious transfers related to your account.
- You should review the statements from your credit card and bank carefully. Report any fraudulent or suspicious activity so that the institution can stop or reverse the transactions.
- Check your credit score every month to see if there are credit applications you don’t recognize. Do not hesitate to freeze your credit reports.
- Change your passwords as soon as possible. Strong passwords are long, contain uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. They should not have personal information. Some sites allow you to add an extra layer of security – two-factor authentication – to your account.
- Family and friends can provide support, and you can warn them about the dangers of online dating scams.
- Consider professional counseling to deal with the loss and grief. The Coalition for Family Harmony offers free counseling sessions for victims of online dating scams.
- A financial planner or accountant can tell you how best to offset the accrued debt or lost savings.
How to outsmart a romance scammer
Scammers are getting more innovative in their attempts to get your money or your details. Be aware that romance and online dating scams exist, and avoid scammers by following these tips.
- Think twice about providing personal information on social media sites. Criminals can use your information and pictures to scam you or to create a fake identity.
- When looking at a new dating or social media profile, note anything odd about the person’s choice of photos, locations, or interests. Base your assessment of their trustworthiness on facts, not emotions.
- Scammers frequently use fake photos they’ve found online. Right-click on their pictures and perform a Google image search. Stolen pictures will show up on other people’s profiles.
- Notice spelling and grammar mistakes and decide if their language skills match their reported background.
- Search their name on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and Google to see what comes up.
- Take it slow. Check for inconsistencies in their stories and ask questions.
- Note if they don’t keep their promises. Do they always have an excuse why they can’t meet you? Do they always need more money or other favors?
- Even if a person sends you money first, you should never give money, credit card details, online account details, copies of important documents, or gifts to them if you haven’t met them in person.
- Talk to someone trusted about this new love interest. Your friends or family may catch something you overlooked.
- If you decide you will meet this person in real life, tell your family and friends where you will be going. It is dangerous to travel overseas to meet someone you have never met before.
Whenever you are talking to a new person, you should always be on guard, especially if you haven’t met this person in real life. There are too many tragic scenarios that could develop, so until you can prove this person’s intentions take as many precautions as you can.