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Roses are red, violets are blue, and we all know that not everything – or everyone – online is true.
But can you tell the difference between someone who is simply using an decades-old photo and a lothario scammer trying to swoon their way to every dollar in your bank account?
Romance scams, or online dating scams, are no joke! Americans reported losing a heartbreaking $1.3 billion to romance scams between 2017 and 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission, and the number is likely higher due to underreporting.
Romance scammers are masters of disguise and play on their victims’ emotions to get them to open up their wallets. With some knowledge, ensure love is in the air…not fraud!
Most importantly, reach out to friends and family if you suspect your online fling might be headed toward scummier territory. Don’t be ashamed! A trusted outside observer will likely help you determine if the romance is real.
What is a Romance Scam?
Online dating scams, romance scams, and sweetheart scams are all terms that refer to the same basic concept: a bad actor creates a fake online profile, hits the open web, and stirs up romantic feelings in victims. After some not-so-innocent flirtation, eventually the scammer asks for money.
The goal of romance scammers is to be as convincing as possible, but many of them follow the same playbook. This means that there are some red flags you should always be aware of when searching for your soulmate online.
- The person requests money for urgent matters, such as medical expenses or a plane ticket. Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
- Scammers will often request hard-to-track forms of payment, like wire transfers or pre-loaded gift cards.
- The person claims to live far away from you, often in a foreign country. They might also say they are in the military and serving overseas.
- The relationship seems to be moving very fast.
- The person breaks promises to see you in person.
It’s not you, it’s them
Don’t let the adage “once bitten, twice shy” apply to romance scammers, because that bite can be quite expensive! If you believe you are being targeted by a romance scam, take these actions – and if you think a loved one is being scammed, let them know what to do:
- Stop communicating with the scammer immediately.
- Note any identifiable information you may have on them, such as their email address. Take screenshots and write down any contact information.
- Contact your bank or credit card company if you think you’ve given money to a scammer.
- File a report with your local police department.
- Report the scam to the FTC and the FBI.
- Alert the website, platform, or app where you met the scammer. They might have more information on the scammer that can help investigators.
Give scammers the slip
By adopting a few cybersecurity habits, you can limit what scammers can learn about you:
- Share with care: Think before posting about yourself and others online, especially on social media or online dating services. Consider what a post reveals and who can see it.
- Check your settings: Consider setting your social media profiles to “private”. This will make it harder for scammers to target and communicate with you.
- Think before you click: Be wary of communications that push you for immediate action or ask for personal information – this could be a phishing attempt. Never share personal information through email, especially if you do not know the sender.
- Use reverse image search: If you think you might be talking to someone online who isn’t presenting themselves honestly, do a reverse image search of the account’s profile picture. You may see that image belongs to a completely different person, or has been affiliated with different online identities. If this is the case, there is a high chance the person behind the fake profile picture is trying to scam you.