How to Detect (and Avoid) an Online Romance Scammer
February 3, 2020
Video Source: Federal Trade Commission
By Cindy Schubert
Senior V.P. of Bank Operations
Thanks to online dating scams, each year thousands of Americans who are searching for love end up with nothing but a broken heart and an empty wallet.
While 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 known as romance scammers. These con artists 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 to 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 online dating scams and offer some tips on how to tell if someone is scamming you online. We also have information about how to report a dating scammer if you or someone you love has fallen victim to one.
4 Common Signs of a Romance Scammer
Romance scammers are experts in social manipulation and can sound very convincing. Many of the signs of a romance scammer are subtle and insidious because the scammer is trying to build trust before they exploit you. To avoid online dating scams, be on the lookout for these four red flags when you’re getting to know someone online:
1. Romance scammers profess love quickly, without actually meeting you.
Often times, the first sign of an online dating scam shows up when a romance scammer expresses strong emotions in a relatively short period of time. They may even say that they’re in love with you, but it’s a tactic they’re using to get you to give up personal details and answers to the security questions that you use to lock down your accounts across the Internet. Guard your personal information carefully, and be wary if a new love interest asks for personal details soon after contact.
2. Romance scammers claim to need money for emergencies, hospital bills or travel.
Be suspicious of anyone who asks you for financial assistance, no matter how dire their circumstances seem to be. If you encounter one of these storylines when you’re talking to a new love interest on the internet, there’s a good chance they’re scamming you.
- "I need money to support a sick relative."
- "I need a short-term loan for airfare to visit you."
- "I need some startup money for a business venture."
- "I need funds to finalize a loved one’s funeral."
- "I’m a US service member overseas, and I need some money."
3. Online romance scammers 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. At first, this might not seem like a red flag. When you are getting to know someone, you’ll naturally want to move beyond the dating site and use other forms of communication. Be very cautious when someone asks for your phone number or email address. This makes it even easier for them to access your personal information.
If you want to communicate outside of the dating site, set up an alternate email address or utilize an instant messaging app that isn’t connected to personal information like your primary email and phone number.
4. Romance scammers plan to visit, but they always cancel because of some "emergency."
If an online love interest makes plans to visit but always seems to change their plans at the last second because of a traumatic event, family drama or a business loss, you should be very suspicious. Often, their cancellation will be accompanied by a request for a short-term loan. Look out for someone who says something like, "I really want to meet you, but I can’t buy a plane ticket right now because of x. If you buy me a ticket, I will pay you back! I just want to be together."
Tips for Avoiding Online Dating Scams
Once you know how to tell if someone is scamming you online, you should have better success avoiding online dating scams, and you will maintain better overall online safety. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends taking the following precautions when you’re using dating sites and social media to meet people:
- Cross-check and verify. Conduct an online search to cross-check 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. A romance scammer might try to isolate you from friends and family or pressure you to make impulsive decisions alone. 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 card 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.
How to Report an Online Dating Scammer
If you are concerned that you or a loved one has fallen victim to an online dating scam, you should report your experience to whichever online dating or social media site you were on. You should also file a complaint with the FTC.
What Really Matters
When you know how to report a dating scammer, it can be empowering. Many times, victims who report a scam feel a sense of relief after notifying authorities. Not only can it help with their personal circumstance, it can also prevent people from falling victim to the romance scammer in the future. Once you report a suspected scam, your financial institution will work with you on the next steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.
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