How to Spot a Romance Scam
Almost every aspect of modern life has moved online: shopping, communication, dining, and entertainment. So it’s no surprise that romance and dating have also made the transition. Unfortunately, even as online dating networks like eHarmony and Match.com have successfully paired millions of singles, scammers seek to take advantage of these apps for their own personal gain. According to the Federal Trade Commission, people reported losing more money on romance scams than on any other fraud type in 2020, adding up to a total loss of $304 million, with a median loss of $2,500. For those 70 and older, the median loss jumped to $9,475.
The scams typically follow the same format. An unknown admirer will reach out, usually through an online dating app/website or through social media networks like Instagram or Facebook, and strike up a friendship. The scammer will attempt to build trust by communicating regularly, sometimes several times a day. They will escalate the relationship as quickly as possible without meeting in person, often professing love or even proposing marriage. However the scam begins, it always ends the same way: the scammer asks for money. Fraudsters may claim they need funds for an urgent medical procedure, legal aid, a family emergency, a visa or other travel documents, or to pay off gambling debts.
Many scammers ask their victims to send money via wire transfer or on a gift card (both transaction styles are difficult to reverse), and more recently some scammers have even convinced their new partners to open a bank account to share funds. The victim may scoff at the idea that they’re being scammed when they see that their sweetheart has deposited a large sum of money into the new bank account. But the odds are that the money is stolen, and accepting it into a “clean” bank account is simply a way of laundering it.
If you suspect you or someone you love may be involved in a romance scam, here are the steps you can take.
Signs That You May Be Communicating With a Scammer
While there’s no surefire way to unmask a potential fraudster, here are some red flags you should look out for:
- They claim to be living or traveling outside the United States
- Their online profile disappears a few days after the first contact
- They quickly try to move communication off the app or website
- They refuse to meet in person
- They profess love almost immediately
- They ask for money and pressure you to give it quickly
- Friends or family show concern about your new love interest
What You Can Do
- Run a Reverse Image Search: An easy way to check up on your online sweetheart is to do a reverse image search on their profile picture. Websites like image.google.com offer this service for free, and it’s a simple way to check if they’ve set up multiple accounts under different names using the same photo.
- Stay on the App/Website: If your potential partner tries to move the conversation off of the online dating app or website and onto your personal email or phone quickly, this should be a red flag. Some apps and online dating services have built-in safety measures (for instance, to scan messages for phrases like “send money” or “medical emergency”) and will automatically flag potential scammers. Also staying on the app or website as long as possible leaves a visible “paper trail” that concretely connects you to your new partner, which will often deter potential scammers.
- Get a Friend’s Perspective. It can be difficult to think logically about a new relationship when you’re head-over-heels in love. Asking your friends or family for an outside perspective can be incredibly helpful, as they will often spot red flags before you do.
- Hold on to Your Money. However close you may feel to this new romantic connection, if you haven’t met in person, do not send them money. When money is involved, it’s almost certainly a scam.
- Report Suspicious Behavior. Even if you successfully outwit the scammer, you should still report your experience to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and to the online dating app or website.
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