Swipe Left on Romance Scams This Valentine’s Day
You might find yourself browsing through profiles on online dating sites in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day this year. Can you tell the difference between someone who is simply using a decades-old photo and a lothario scammer trying to swoon their way to every dollar in your bank account? Swipe left on romance scams this Valentine’s Day by reading this handy guide.
With Valentine’s Day approaching, many hopeless romantics might be in the mood for love — but romance robbers may also be in the mood to exploit their next victims. Millions of people around the world use online dating sites and apps. And there are many success stories of people finding love and companionship online. But as well as the successes, there are also online dating scams – and these are on the rise. Americans reported losing a heartbreaking $1.3 billion to romance scams between 2017 and 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the number is likely higher due to underreporting.
Roses are red, violets are blue, and we all know that not everything – or everyone – online is true.
Anyone can fall victim to romance scams, but older people often suffer a heavier financial loss. Scammers target older people because they are more likely to have assets such as retirement funds or homes, which can be stolen. It is believed that around two-thirds of romance fraud victims are women, with an average age of 50.
Romance scams are an especially cruel type of fraud because it preys on people’s emotions. The following overview will explain common dating scams, the signs of a romance scammer, how to report a dating scammer, and how to protect yourself from these fraudsters.
What Is a Romance Scam?
The con typically works something like this:
You post a dating profile and up pops a promising match — good-looking, smart, funny and personable. Supposed suitors might also reach out on social media. More than a third of people who lost money to a romance scam in 2021 reported that it started on Facebook or Instagram, according to the FTC. They’ll use pictures of an attractive person, of course.
This person seems like a great potential mate. They claim to live in another part of the country or to be abroad for business or a military deployment, but they seem smitten and eager to get to know you better. They suggest moving your relationship to a private channel like email or a chat app. “What could possibly go wrong,” you ask yourself?
You’ve been chatting with them for weeks or months, and you feel yourself developing feelings for the person. You make plans to meet in person, but something always comes up and you never end up meeting face-to-face. Then, out of the blue, you get an urgent request: there’s an emergency (a medical problem, perhaps, or a business crisis) and your online companion needs you to send money fast. Usually this involves gift cards, prepaid debit cards, cryptocurrency, or bank or wire transfers. They’ll promise to pay it back, but that will never happen. Instead, they will keep asking for more until you realise it’s a scam and eventually cut them off.
Romance scams can overlap with or evolve into other forms of fraud. For example, international criminal gangs use dating sites to recruit unwitting “money mules” to launder ill-gotten funds through their bank accounts or other means. And con artists are increasingly luring supposed sweethearts into fraudulent cryptocurrency investments.
Online dating scams, romance scams, and sweetheart scams are all terms that refer to the same basic concept: a threat 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.
- 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.
Romance scammers are masters of disguise and play on their victims’ emotions to get them to open up their wallets. With some knowledge, you can ensure love is in the air this Valentine’s Day… 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.
Swipe left on romance scams this Valentine’s Day. And remember: there are plenty of fish in the sea.
Reporting romance scams:
The U.S. Army has a detailed fact sheet on spotting romance scammers posing as American soldiers posted abroad.
Social Catfish’s list of the top 100 photos used for catfishing (using a fake identity to lure someone into a romantic relationship).
For more interesting reading, visit:
This article was created in collaboration with the National Cybersecurity Alliance.