How to Detect (and Avoid) an Online Romance Scammer
February 13, 2019
Source: Federal Trade Commission
By Cindy Schubert
Senior V.P. of Bank Operations
Thanks to online romance scams, each year thousands of Americans who are searching for love end up with nothing but a broken heart and an empty wallet.
While popular online dating and social media sites have become increasingly popular tools to find love and friendship, they've unfortunately also become popular tools for fraudsters who create fake profiles to lure in victims, establish romantic relationships and eventually, extort money.
According to the Better Business Bureau, victims in the U.S. and Canada have reported losing more than $1 billion over the last three years online romance scam artists. Older users, in particular, are more often targeted by this type of scam — and most don't realize they are a victim until it is too late.
In this article, we’ll identify common signs of an online dating scam, and offer some advice on how people can avoid falling victim to an online romance scammer.
An Online Romance Scammer Will ...
Scammers are experts in social manipulation and can sound very convincing. To avoid online dating scams, be on the lookout for a supposed “love interest” who will:
Profess love quickly, without actually meeting you.
Often times, a scammer will express strong emotions (potentially even love) in a relatively short period of time, to get you to give up personal details and answers to many security questions that you use to lock down your accounts across the Internet. Guard your personal information carefully, and be wary if the love interest asks for a host of personal details soon after contact.
Claim to need money — for emergencies, hospital bills or travel.
Be suspicious of anyone who asks you for financial assistance, no matter how dire they claim their circumstances are. Some common storylines scammers use include:
- Sick relatives
- Short-term loans for airfares to visit
- Startup money for a business venture
- Funds to finalize a loved one’s funeral
- Service member overseas who needs money
Try to lure you off the dating site.
Often times, scammers convince victims to leave the dating site and use personal email or instant messaging to continue communication. This makes it even easier for them to scour your personal information — starting with your primary email address.
Plan to visit, but always cancel because of some “emergency.”
If a scammer plans to visit but always seems to be prevented at the last second by traumatic event or business loss, you should be very suspicious.
Tips for Avoiding Online Dating Scams
If you are concerned that you or a loved one is being scammed, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that you take the following precautions:
- Crosscheck and verify. Conduct an online search to crosscheck the person’s name, photo, location, email address and other details for legitimacy.
- Slow down and talk to someone you trust. Tell a friend or family member about your situation, and discuss your next steps with them. Don’t let a scammer rush you into making any sort of decision.
- Do not send money. Never wire money, put money on a gift or cash reload card, or send cash to an online love interest. You won’t get it back.
- If you have already sent money, report it. Contact your financial institution right away if you think you’ve sent money to a scammer. You should also report your experience to the online dating or social media site and file a complaint with the FTC.
Many times, victims who report a scam feel a sense of relief after notifying authorities. Not only can it help with their individual circumstance, it can prevent future people from falling victim to the scammer, as well. Once you report a suspected scam, your financial institution will work with the victim on the next steps they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Graphics courtesy American Bankers Association (ABA) & the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)