Just about everyone wants to fall in love and live happily ever after with their perfect mate. However, it’s not that simple these days. With more people turning to online dating, the playing field has become a minefield littered with romance scams, cheaters, and identity theft.
What is a Romance Scam?
Romance scams are designed with a financial goal in mind. Scammers enter into a relationship with someone, earn their trust, and then drop the hammer and ask for financial help. According to the FTC, in 2019, victims lost more than $201million to romance scams.
Older women are a big target for romance scams because they are seen as lonely and desperate by thieves and make for easy targets. Since the popularity of online dating sites and social media, romance scams have increased tremendously. It’s easy for a scammer to pretend to be someone they are not (called a “catfisher”) and conduct a full-blown romance online for weeks, months, and sometimes even years, draining their victim of their lifetime of savings.
How Does a Romance Scam Work?
Often these scams work because the scammer tells his new love/victim that he or she is stationed overseas (thus negating the option of an in-person meeting). That story also comes in handy later when he or she needs money. Scammers carry on conversations, send adoring texts, and usually profess strong feelings quickly. All this sweet talk is meant to lure their victim in and make them fall in love. Once the scammer has gained the victim’s trust, they concoct a story about needing money to travel home or for an unforeseen medical emergency. Sometimes they claim to have something of value they need to get out of a foreign country and need your help with paying off tax and export officials. The endless array of stories are designed to prey on the victim’s guilt and compassion.
There have been numerous scary stories of romance scams where the person actually dates someone for a long time. As they get closer, he or she attempts to “help” the other one financially by taking control of their finances. They may tell the person they can invest their savings or to sell a home for cash, which they can then double in a short amount of time. Because the victim is in love and trusts their new partner, they do as they say until one day when they wake up alone and broke and find out it was all just a scam.
With identity theft, scammers will try to get their hands on your bank account details, social security number, birthdate, maybe your passport, and usernames and passwords for other accounts so they can take it all.
Some Popular Dating Scam Websites
Although anyone can scam you at any time, the most popular dating venues online for scammers are:
- Google Hangout.
Scammers often create a fake profile with pictures they find online and details they think will appeal to potential victims.
How to Spot a Romance Scam
Because romance scams use emotion to lure victims in, it’s often difficult to spot until you have already lost money. However, if you engage in online dating or meet someone on social media, there are a few tipoffs to be aware of so you don’t get reeled in. Some signs to spot a romance scam are:
- The person professes deep emotions for you very quickly. They use dramatic language.
- The writing may be in broken English, indicating a foreign scammer.
- They claim to be in the military or another country for some reason.
- They ask you for money pretty early on.
- They claim medical emergencies, hospital bills, an urgent need to travel, or some other reason they need the money fast.
- They ask you to front it to them via prepaid gift cards or wire transfer.
- He or she keeps saying they will visit you in person soon but cancels or comes up with reasons why they cannot.
- They want to move the conversation out of the dating app and into plain text or email. Scammers don’t want to get caught by the service, so this is a tactic they use.
How to Avoid a Romance Scam and Not Get Caught
When it comes to romance, the last thing you want to think about going into it is your new love might not be true. However, the statistics don’t lie, so you need to be super careful to stay safe. Some ways to protect yourself from a romance scam are:
- Take things slowly. If someone presses you for money or to move quickly in the relationship, take a step back, and evaluate things.
- Never, ever buy gift cards or sent wire transfers to someone you have never met, no matter what they tell you.
- Do not give out any personal details until you know the person well.
- Keep your bank accounts, credit cards, social security number, and other PII safe and never share it.
What to Do if You Were Involved in a Romance Scam
If you were caught in a romance scam, contact your bank at once to report the fraud. Keep an eye on your credit reports and file a complaint with the FTC and FBI.