Looking for love? Each year many get caught up in online relationships. While some blossom into real-life connections, far too often, singles find themselves caught up in a bad romance with online swindlers. These scammers play on others' emotions; luring them into what appears to be the “perfect” relationship, only to break hearts and bank accounts in the process. Before embarking on an online relationship, look out for some triggers that can let you know if you’re being conned by a dating scammer.
The Way Romance Scams Work
Dating apps and matchmaking websites are common places you would look for online dates. But most frequently social media is the place where many are approached with unexpected messages from strangers claiming to be interested. It usually starts with a compliment or a friend request from an attractive stranger. The stranger uses charm to swoon their victim into a conversation, which often leads to suggesting a move to WhatsApp, Google Chat, or similar apps. This is where the scammer gathers and uses the personal information the victim reveals to make a fast “love” connection.
Typically, the con artist creates an attractive fake profile, often using phony photos or even stealing another’s identity to lure in matches. Many use the farce that they are widowed or divorced and are now looking to find someone to settle down with. Once they have got the attention of their victim, they shower them with compliments and soon profess their affection has grown strongly in a very short period of time. They prey on the victim's emotions to gain their trust, filling them with false hopes of meeting and growing a relationship. After impressing their new “love” interest to the point where both parties want to meet, this is where the problems start. They can’t meet because of some excuse. More often than not, they claim to be away or out of the country for various reasons: in the military, working abroad, or providing aid overseas. Or they may claim they are taking care of a family member or close associate.
By this time the defenses are down and the scammer may subtly ask for money, gifts, or even financial information. They commonly claim to have some sort of family crisis, unexpected expense, financial trouble, or medical emergency and they need money. They may even say they need funds to cover travel expenses to come and visit. They’ll ask for cash to be wired or transferred to an account. Most recent reports of romance scams reveal that 60 used money transfers and cryptocurrency to get money. Others ask for gift or prepaid reloadable cards, all so the transaction is untraceable.
Once the scammers have what they want, they disappear just as quickly as they arrived. Communication is cut off and the other person is left to pick up the pieces emotionally and financially. Many have lost a lot of money. In 2022, the Consumer Sentinel Network reports receiving almost 70,000 reports of romance scams, with victims losing some $1.3 billion.
Warning Signs of a Bad Romance
Be cautious if your new love:
- tries to lure you from the dating site immediately and wants to communicate by chat app, personal email, text, instant message, or phone
- professes love for you almost immediately
- claims to be from the U.S., but is traveling, living, or working overseas
- says they are planning to visit, but then claim they cannot due to a traumatic event or a business deal gone bad
- asks you to send them money, gifts, provide your financial or identification information, or set up a bank account
Spotting a Scam
Protecting yourself is crucial. Not only can a dating scam drain you financially, you may open yourself up to someone that can harm you physically as well as emotionally. No matter how convincing the person may sound or be, use sound judgment to determine if you could be dealing with a scam artist.
There are a few tricks you can use to see if your online sweetheart is catfishing.
- Do an image search on their photos to see if they show up other places.
- Google search their name, phone number, and email address. This may tip you off to other scams that the person may have been involved in.
- Search for sentences from their initial message or profile description. Many times they use the same language with slight variations in their scam.
Some other things to look out for are spelling and grammatical mistakes, inconsistent stories, and if they make excuses or are resistant to video chat. Be careful about sending personal pictures or videos with persons you do not know, especially intimate ones. Some scammers convince their targets to share explicit pictures and later threaten to send the pictures to the victim’s social media contacts if they don’t pay, a practice called sexploitation.
More Tips to Keep Safe
If you plan to meet the individual, tell others you know and trust where you will meet. Preferably avoid meeting them alone. Never go abroad or overseas to meet someone you do not know. And if the romance turns into finance, that is a clear sign that this is not a love connection.
In case you suspect that the person you are connecting with is a scammer, STOP all communication with the person right away. While it may be embarrassing, confide in someone you trust to let them know what you’ve experienced. Letting others know what occurred can save someone else from falling victim to similar scams. It is not uncommon for scammers to resurface months or years later, under another name and profile, to try again.
If you have given them access to your personal information, check and monitor your accounts and credit reports. Immediately report any unfamiliar activity. If you paid a romance scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away. Explain to them that you paid a scammer with the gift card and ask if they can refund your money. Contact the administrators of the app or website where you met the scammer to report them. You can report it to BCA and also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and the Federal Bureau of Investigation at ic3.gov.
Online dating scams are on the rise. Due to the nature of the scam and victims feeling ashamed and embarrassed, as well as hurt by these schemes, they are often not reported. This is what crooks depend on and it is also how they continue to thrive. Even if you are not involved in an online romance, share this information with someone who may need it. Make sure to follow Business Consumer Alliance on Facebook for trending information, scam alerts, and more.