Beware of online romance scams!

Nowadays it’s common for romance to blossom online, with almost one-third of US adults having used a dating website or app. Unfortunately for all the lonely hearts out there, there are also lots of scammers online looking for money rather than love.
Man’s hands typing love messages on a smartphone
Is it true love or an online scam? Learn the signs of a romance scammer.
Romance scams, which often take the form of catfishing, are online dating hoaxes that target unsuspecting singles. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

What is a romance scam?

Romance scammers usually create fake identities and profiles on social media platforms or dating apps, a practice known as “catfishing”. The goal is to start an online relationship and win the trust of the unsuspecting victim with the aim of swindling money from them. Unfortunately, this sort of cybercrime seems to pay, with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reporting a record 304 million US dollars lost to romance scams in 2020.

How romance scammers operate

A romance scammer will set up a profile on a dating or social media platform, and either use it to contact potential targets or, in some cases, wait to be contacted by other users on the site. Once they have connected with a likely victim, they start by exchanging messages on that platform. However, they soon suggest moving the relationship off the website onto a more private channel like email or messaging – sometimes even phone. They forge an emotional bond with their intended victim, showering them with charm, showing intense interest in them, and sending frequent romantic messages. To build trust, the scammer will usually have thought out an elaborate life story that they gradually share – a successful career, past failed relationships, and hobbies and interests. In this beginning phase, money is usually never mentioned.

Once the victim has formed a romantic attachment, the scammer will often pretend to need money due to a financial emergency, like a robbery, a severely ill family member or a business loss. Or they claim to want to travel to meet their sweetheart, but need money for a plane ticket. Usually the scammer will ask their target to wire money to help them out of the tight spot, but they might also suggest sending a cash reload card or a gift card.

In other cases, scammers ask their victim to accept and transfer money from their bank account or pick up and resend items such as computers or smartphones. Such scenarios are an attempt to launder money or move stolen goods rather than to defraud the victim of their own money, and make the target an unwitting partner in their crimes.

The scammer will usually keep up the façade of romance until the victim’s requests to meet become too urgent or they stop sending money – at which point they will abruptly cut off contact and disappear. In addition to the heartbreak, the victim is left much poorer – or even facing consequences for their involvement in illegal schemes.

How to recognize an online dating scam

Romance scammers start with a fake online profile. Some clues that a profile might not be real:
  • Their social media profile was created recently and the “friends” all come from different foreign countries.
  • The profile photo or other shared images seem staged and the people unusually attractive, more like models in a photo shoot.
  • They claim to have a job that keeps them far away or traveling often, like military service or working on an oil rig.
  • They claim a level of education or nationality that does not match their language ability, e.g. someone states they have a degree from a US university but displays poor English skills.
It can be difficult to spot a fake dating profile immediately. That’s why it’s important to do your homework. Search the internet thoroughly for signs that the person actually exists other than on social media sites. You can also perform a reverse image search of their profile picture to see if it has appeared elsewhere, or search for their name plus the term “romance scam” to see if they have been mentioned as a possible scammer on other forums.

What can you do if you realize you have been scammed?

If you realize that you have been played by a romance scammer, you should break off all contact immediately. Consider reporting them to the authorities, like the FTC in the United States, and notify the website or app where they created their profile. If you believe you have given your back account details to a scammer, it is very important that you contact your financial institution immediately.

Protect yourself from romance scams

To keep yourself from falling prey to an online dating scam, keep the following in mind:
  • Don’t get swept up in the romance. It is only human to want to find true love, but it’s also important to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism about an allegedly attractive, successful individual who wants to start a long-distance relationship with a stranger.
  • Be careful what you share publicly online. Scammers can use details that you post on social media to target you and forge a connection.
  • If your friends or family members express concern about your relationship, give them a fair hearing and try to honestly assess if their worries are valid.
  • NEVER, ever send money to someone you only know online or over the phone.
  • Never give out your bank account information to someone you met online. Even if the other person wants to use it to send you money, you may be getting involved in a money laundering scheme, which is a crime.
  • Before you share intimate photos or videos of yourself, keep in mind that they can be reposted or forwarded – and that scammers sometimes use compromising images to blackmail their targets.
We hope you found this article helpful – we look forward to your feedback below. And if you like mail.com, why not review us on TrustPilot?

Images: 1&1/Shutterstock

7 people found this article helpful.

Related articles

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

What is typosquatting?

Americans see data disclosure by internet companies or authorities as one of biggest threats to data security