Millions of people feel lonely and yearn for companionship. Many join online dating sites or hope to find someone special on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. But instead of finding love and romance, they fall for romance scams that break their hearts and empty their wallets.
People report losing more money on romance scams than on any other type of fraud. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in 2020, reported losses to romance scams reached a record $304 million, up about 50% from 2019 – a median dollar loss of $2,500 per person.
How the Scam Works
According to the FBI, romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic relationship to manipulate and steal from the victim.
Men and women are equally susceptible to romance scams, regardless of age group.
Scammers often claim to be in the military or working overseas to avoid meeting their victims in person. And they’re good at fabricating reasons why they can’t have a live video call.
They usually copy photos from another person’s dating or social media account and create a fake persona designed to trick potential victims. Soon after their target develops romantic feelings and starts trusting them, they will share a compelling story about how they need money for something important.
In many cases, they won’t ask their victims directly to help them. Instead, they make their victims feel sorry for them, hoping they’ll volunteer to send them money. The most frequently reported payment methods are gift cards and wire transfers.
When their target has no more money to give them or becomes suspicious, they disappear.
- Be careful what you post online – The better a scammer understands you, the easier it becomes to target you.
- Don’t send money – Never send money or gifts to someone showing a romantic interest in you if you haven’t met in person.
- Take it slowly – Be suspicious of anyone who professes to have feelings for you without first meeting you. Ask many questions and look for inconsistent or conflicting answers.
- Watch out for poor English – If the person you are talking to claims to be from the United States but has poor language skills, they may be from another country like Nigeria, which is known to have many scammers.
- Hot profile pic and photos – Scammers often post attractive pictures they stole from someone else. If they look like they can get any man or woman they want, ask yourself why they are interested in you.
- Do some research – One of the easiest ways to determine if the person you’re talking to is impersonating someone else is to do a reverse image search using sites like images.google.com or TinEye.com.
- New social media account? – If a stranger contacts you on a site like Facebook from a new account that has very little content or engagement, it’s a red flag.
- Beware of someone you can’t meet in person – Scammers will typically offer excuses why you can’t video call them or why they can’t meet you in person. If the person you’re talking to keeps coming up with excuses, it’s likely they don’t want to reveal their true identity.
- Never send inappropriate photos – If a scammer can’t convince you to willingly send them money, they may try to use inappropriate photos to extort money from you.
- Never share your financial information – Never share your banking details with anyone. Don’t disclose how much you’re earning or how much money you have. If a romance scammer knows you can afford to send them money but are reluctant to do so, they can manipulate you until they get what they want.
- Don’t get too serious, too soon – If someone you recently met online starts talking about your future together and says or implies they love you, be cautious.
- Hard luck stories – If you’re talking to a scammer, they will sooner or later tell you a compelling story about the tough time they’re having. If anyone you meet online starts asking you for money, it’s a red flag.
Note that scammers don’t always make the first move. They create fake profiles designed to lure their victims. So if you made first contact, don’t let it give you a false sense of safety.
If you’re a victim of a romance scam or come across one, report it to the site where you met the scammer and to the following organizations:
- The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center – ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint
- Federal Trade Commission – ReportFraud.ftc.gov
- BBB Scam Tracker – bbb.org/scamtracker
The Better Business Bureau has resources to help consumers and businesses. You can report a scam (whether you’ve lost money or not), file a complaint against a business, and leave a review of a business you’ve used.
Visit our blog for more tips and scam alerts.