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Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and many singles are turning to dating apps and online websites to find the right match for a romantic date. While many of us are trained to see the red flags for serial killers, catfish and ghosts (in that order), these are not the only villains lurking online for would-be matches. Scam artists are thinking of ways to woo you into sending them thousands—or millions of dollars. This is becoming such a problem in the U.S. that the FBI tweeted a warning about using caution about romance scams when dating online.
Every year, millions of people lose money to scammers who quickly make them believe they’re in love. In fact, romance scams continue to rise every year as more victims report financial losses. As online dating becomes the norm, it’s becoming more important than ever to think twice before sending money to an online persona. Reportedly, romance scams ballooned from $88 million to $143 million in 2017. Compared to 2015, where 8,500 romance scams accounted for $33 million in losses.
What is a Romance Scam?
Romance scams rely on meeting people online, wooing them with lofty promises and saying all the right things. These scammers don’t just target your bank account, they also target your heart. They prey on the basic human need for romantic connections. For this reason, romance scams can be some of the most difficult scams to rebound from.
Romance scams are, arguably, the worst scam that a victim can endure. Not only do victims endure financial losses, but they are often left heartbroken and unsure of themselves. The emotional toll of romance scams doesn’t discriminate. Even those who don’t have a lot of money run the risk of being scammed.
How does a Romance Scam Work?
The first step in a romance scam is a scammer creating a fake identity through social media profiles. Often, they find their victims through social media or dating apps and websites. They get to know their victims personally through private messaging or texting. To further their mission, the scammer will begin expressing a closeness they feel to their victim. Eventually, those feelings will turn into declarations of love. Through these conversations, the victim may begin to develop real feelings for the scammer. The goal is to create a whirlwind romance—one that makes you feel like you’re in a rom-com meet-cute.
Once the scammer knows they have hooked their victim, they will have some sort of setback that requires money. These setbacks can include a medical emergency, visa issues or lost wallets while they’re on a trip. A common ruse that victims fall for is paying for travel costs for a visit to the victim.
Who are the Victims of Romance Scams?
Romance scams are lucrative and easy to commit. In addition, they often allow a perpetrator to remain anonymous while committing their crimes. While romance scams can happen to anyone, women account for 63% of romance scam victims. The average age for romance fraud victims is around 50 years old.
MTV’s Catfish has been around long enough that we should all know that a little super-sleuthing goes a long way when it comes to online dating. Unfortunately, the show continues to thrive and people continue to be scammed.
Many romance scammers operate using the same ‘playbook’. These types of playbooks have specific lines used to make a person fall in love. Often, romance scammers will say that they are in the building and construction industry overseas. Others will say that they are military service members serving overseas. They will also have plenty of excuses of why they are unable to talk on the phone.
What do Romance Scammers Want from Their Victims?
Romance scammers want to get anything valuable from you. Whether it be cash, jewelry or other gifts, these scammers are not interested in you—only what you can give them. To achieve this, these scammers will come up with stories that seem believable to a person who is in love, but may raise an eyebrow or both from others who hear the story.
Financial Signs of a Romance Scam
If you’re going into debt to assist a person you’ve never met, you might be getting scammed. Financial signs that you are being scammed include:
- Draining of your savings
- Taking out payday loans
- Maxing out credit cards
- Taking out credit cards
- Spending your entire paycheck
- Purchasing gift cards for Steam, Amazon, iTunes or Google Play
- Wiring money to a friend of the love interest
Further, a scammer will insist that they’ll pay you back and ask for your bank account information. They will likely deposit a fake check that leads to you paying significant overdraft fees.
How do Romance Scammers Trick Their Victims?
Each year, Americans lose millions of dollars from these types of scams. Don’t let a scammer slide into your DM’s and bamboozle you for thousands of dollars.
“I run a business and need you to help me pay a fee to get paid.”
It’s important to realize that a person running a legitimate business shouldn’t need a loan from an individual.
“Help me pay travel expenses to see you.”
Romance scammers will persuade a person to send them money to travel. However, they’ll leave you waiting at the airport.
“I need a new phone/laptop to keep up with school/ keep talking to you.”
They will often begin the scam process by asking for a small amount, a few hundred to purchase a new phone or laptop to keep talking to you.
“I have to pay money to get an inheritance, can you help?”
This a common scam. In some U.S. states, a person may have to hire an attorney or pay an inheritance tax. So it’s not totally unbelievable to consider that this happens abroad as well. But once again, it’s best to send thoughts and prayers that they get the situations figured out instead of sending money.
Avoiding Romance Scams
The best way to avoid romance scams is to know who you’re dealing with. You can avoid a romance scam by using the following strategies:
- Always meet in person at a public location, sooner than later. If you keep offering to meet up, but the person keeps giving you excuses, they’re probably a catfish, married or could be a scammer in another country.
- Tell a trusted friend about your new love. Talk to your friends and family about the person you’re talking to. It’s easy for your emotions to cloud your judgment. Letting your friends in can help prevent you from being blind to obvious red flags.
- DON’T SEND MONEY. Ever. Sending money or gifts to a potential love interest you have never met in person is the best way to end up in a situation where you are scammed.
- Research your love interest. Don’t be afraid to ask for last names, what they do for a living or other questions that may seem invasive. Scrutinize everything they say by searching for them on Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Instagram and even reverse image searches on Google.
- Take it slow. You wouldn’t rush a relationship if you met a love interest at the grocery store, so why rush it online? By taking it slow, you’ll be able to spot the scam before you send money.
Finally, if your online love is too good to be true, then they’re probably a scammer. You’re more than likely not the only person being scammed. Moreover, you’re probably not even talking to who you think you are. Romance scammers have full-on organized efforts to scam people out of their money. It’s important you remain vigilant online.
Safe Dating Tip: Never Trust Anyone You’ve Never Met
Romance scams rank as the number one reason that people report scam losses. These scams can happen to anyone. Even if you can hold a scammer accountable, it’s unlikely that you’ll actually be able to recover any of the money lost. More often, however, there is no one to answer and no one to hold accountable in the aftermath of a romance scam. In addition to a broken heart, you’ll be left with mounds of debt and the hope that maybe the person you fell in love with is real. The number one rule of online dating is: Never. Send. Money.