Online dating has transformed from a fringe & frowned-upon practice to the preferred way for millions of people to find love. The pandemic helped connect more people with similar interests and values than ever before. It also caused an explosion of romance scams, leaving countless broken hearts and millions in damages in their wake.
What are romance scams all about? How can you spot them, and how can you avoid becoming a victim? We explore all of this & more below.
What Are Romance Scams?
Romance or online dating scams are fraudulent actions that prey on a victim’s trust and vulnerability. Perpetrators of such scams create fake dating profiles and connect with people looking for affection in order to exploit them.
While the methods and their sophistication vary, the goal is always some form of ill-gotten gain. The criminals will either scam their “partners” out of thousands of dollars, get them to invest in cryptocurrencies, or gather enough info on them to commit identity theft.
Who Are the Victims?
Almost anyone looking for love online can become a victim if they’re not vigilant. Still, some people are more susceptible than others. Several studies show that around 60% of the victims are women, and a majority of overall targets are middle-aged.
It makes sense since this demographic has more disposable income while still being young and interested enough in finding a romantic partner. It’s also more likely that middle-aged victims are divorced, widowed, or lonely. The scammers draw on these experiences to build a stronger connection.
What Methods Do Romance Scammers Use?
Depending on their motives or end goal, scammers start by carefully crafting their user profiles. They’ll search the internet for pictures of attractive people, fabricate a lucrative & prestigious career, and list hobbies the kinds of people they target are likely to be interested in.
Once they’ve picked a mark, they’ll usually start a whirlwind romance. The victim gets showered with attention and compliments to feel special and let their guard down. A scammer might profess their love and spend a lot of time getting to know their “partner” to find out more about them. It’s normal to ask personal questions when getting to know someone romantically. However, they can go so far as to ask for one’s SSN, bank accounts, passwords, or other sensitive information.
The courtship can last for weeks or months, but the scammer will eventually make their move. Some will pose as soldiers or doctors working overseas who need money to cover medical expenses or to buy a ticket to see their “partner.” Others will ask for gifts or money outright as proof of the victim’s love or as a means of securing a supposed inheritance.
Scammers with even fewer scruples may ask the victim to share explicit photos or perform indecent acts over a webcam. They’ll then use the footage as blackmail. It’s easy for the scammer to identify contacts to leak such footage to if a victim has shared a lot about their social circle.
Fraudsters will often ask to move the conversation away from the dating platform so they can more freely send malicious links. These take the victims to spoofed websites where they’re asked to fill out forms or log in with their email accounts. Once they type the details in, the scammer may use them to hijack the account, apply for credit cards, etc.
Sometimes the entire website can be a scam! These tend to attract people looking for hookups and few attachments. The registration process involves detailed forms or surveys ostensibly designed to help you find the right match. But the answers may contain info about your passwords, security questions, or banking details.
What Are the Consequences?
Romance scams are even more hurtful since they result in financial and emotional trauma. The linked study suggests that many victims are already more neurotic and prone to addictive behavior, which such a betrayal can only exacerbate.
Shame, depression, and even suicide are possible outcomes, especially if friends & family aren’t supportive. The experience is enough for many to stop looking for a partner altogether.
How to Identify a Romance Scammer?
It’s important not to let romantic feelings cloud your judgment in assessing the other person. Seriously consider the following:
- Does their profile look too good to be true?
- Are they quickly trying to get you off the platform you met on?
- Are they moving the relationship forward much too fast?
- Do they ask lots of personal questions but reveal little about themselves?
- Do their replies look carefully crafted or scripted?
- Are there inconsistencies in their stories?
- Do they keep coming up with excuses when you ask to talk, video chat, or meet in person?
- Is their life hectic, i.e., are they always busy with family emergencies or other tragic events?
- Are they always asking you for money or other favors?
If you answered one or more of these questions with yes, it’s time to reassess your “relationship” and break contact before you get hurt.
How Can You Protect Yourself from Romance Scams?
While such scams are a real danger, they shouldn’t stop you from trying to find happiness. Instead, be mindful of your behavior and take measures to protect yourself. Here’s what you can do:
- Use only established dating websites and apps;
- Do a reverse image search of a love interest’s profile pic and try to find other pictures of them;
- Don’t reveal sensitive info about yourself;
- Communicate exclusively through the dating platform;
- Have some cybersecurity measures in place, just in case. These include enabling automatic updates for your operating system & apps, a secure password manager, two-factor authentication, and good antimalware;
- Don’t click on suspicious links;
- Never make and send compromising photos or videos;
- Cut ties and report the profile if the other person starts pestering you for money or asks for access to your accounts as proof of your devotion;
- Contact the dating platform if you suspect foul play. If they managed to scam you, alert the authorities, credit institutions, and your bank to minimize the damage.