Oh, l’amour! Breaking hearts and banks everywhere…
After two long years of lockdowns and social distancing, our lonely hearts are getting desperate for a little love and human interaction.
Since Valentine’s Day is around the corner, the pressure’s on to seem just as happy-in-love as our friends on social media.
As we rush online to find love and companionship, romance scammers are cashing in. The online dating and digital communication boom have created the perfect breeding grounds for cyberattacks.
The good news is, these catfish and crafty casanovas aren’t too hard to spot if you know what to look for.
Read on for all the tell-tale signs to help you dodge any poisoned darts this Valentine’s Day.
Romance Scams Are Big Business
The stats are heart-breaking…
The FBI estimates that 1 in every 10 online dating profiles is fake. Romance scams have tripled since the lockdowns began in March 2020. The Federal Trade Commission states romance scams complaints jumped over 400% between 2016 and 2020, costing victims over $300 million in 2020. That’s more than 10 times the total loss from any other scam!
The older you are, the more likely you’ll pay. People aged 70+ are willing to hand over on average $9,475, compared to $2,500 across all age groups.
Most romance scams begin on dating apps, but social media is another easy gateway. More than a third of those who lost money to online romance scams in 2021 reported the scam began on Facebook or Instagram.
Scammers con vulnerable people worldwide through social media. They create fake profiles and find new victims within minutes. The personal details we all share on social media make it super easy for scammers to adapt their approach to our tastes.
What makes online scammers so eye-catching and what tricks do they hide under their sleeves?
The Plan Of Action
Romance scammers follow a pretty standard MO. If you know the script, though, you can flip it!
Scamming is a dynamic industry. It has teams of workers rotating shifts to woo you night and day. Your scammer – or scam syndicate – will do their best to find out what you’re into. Then, they’ll put together a profile tailored to make you look twice.
Photos lifted off the web come in handy. Who can resist a man in uniform, right? No one, it seems. The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) is always receiving complaints about scammers posing as U.S soldiers.
Other typical personas include:
- 👷 Oil rig engineer.
- 💉 Humanitarian doctor working abroad.
- 💸 International business person.
- 📚 Gorgeous female/male/gender-fluid foreign student.
It only takes minutes to whip up a fake profile. Equipped with their enticing fake profiles, scammers are ready to go fish.
Once they’ve made contact, they’ll sweep you off your feet with their charm and attention. The relationship gets serious quickly, but it’s hard to pin them down or get them to agree to meet in person, ever.
The Same Old Spiel
Scammers specialize in spinning yarn; a tragic sob story to get your sympathy, quick love professions, and convincing excuses for never meeting. These all foreshadow an unhappy ending.
At some point, your cyber sweetheart will ask for money. Cyber scammers come up with endless reasons for the money. They may claim that they’re looking to:
- 💰 Travel to see you.
- 💰 Pay off medical bills.
- 💰 Pay off debts.
- 💰 Settle customs duties.
- 💰 Fix equipment.
- 💰 Invest in their so-called business.
They design all their stories to create a sense of urgency and make you feel cold-hearted if you refuse.
Show Me the Money!
Scammers prefer gift cards or wire transfers to remain anonymous and get the cash quickly. They also know these transactions are almost impossible to reverse.
Some may even involve you in money laundering or online bank fraud. They’ll send you money and ask you to send it back or forward it to someone else. If you fall for it, you could find yourself an accessory to a crime involving stolen money.
You wouldn’t want that of course! That’s why it’s important to keep your guard up and learn every scammer’s most common tactics. That way you’ll see them coming! What could these tactics be?
For all their seeming ingenuity, the same scams and scenarios, even the same names and photos, pop up time and again. Here are 4 typical scams to look out for:
1. The Long Distance Lover
You meet and fall for a successful, hard-working man stationed abroad. How nice. He’s clearly into you! Unfortunately, he’s always busy and can’t come to meet you. Who could blame him? He’s a national hero.
You find a lovely Eastern European girl online. She’s a student, sweet as honey, thinks you’re the bee’s knees and has a bikini-ready body she’s not too shy to flaunt on her profile. Yet she claims to be too shy to video chat and avoids your voice calls too. You give her the benefit of the doubt and all your attention, but she wants more.
Whatever the case, once you’ve developed a relationship, your scammer will go for the kill and ask for money. Once you hand it over, you’ll probably never hear from them again.
2. The Pity Party
You believe you’ve found your perfect match: intelligent, romantic, sweet, sincere, caring and, of course, incredibly handsome. Scammers prey on good-hearted, innocent people, and hone in on elderly or vulnerable people who are just looking for companionship.
They work hard to earn your trust and affection, then make up stories about having a medical emergency. Maybe they caught COVID-19 and need money for treatment. After you send the money, your scammer disappears.
3. Sextortion Scams
You finally found someone you feel comfortable talking to. You have no secrets. You trust them completely and lay out all your cards on the table.
Your scammer seduces you into sending compromising pictures or videos of yourself. They then use these to blackmail you. They’ll threaten to post them on porn sites or send them to your loved ones or employer, unless you pay them.
4. No Such Thing as a Free Gift
It’s Valentine’s Day or Christmas Eve. Your scammer wants to shower you with attention and sweep you off your feet. They tell you they’ve sent you a gift from abroad.
How sweet! You’re eager to receive it but it’s stuck at customs with pending shipment fees. They ask you to wire money or send prepaid cards to release the package. You pay the dues, but the gift never arrives.
It’s physically, emotionally, and financially draining to find yourself entangled with a scammer. Fortunately, you’ll be able to spot one a mile away if you know what to look out for.
How to Spot a Scammer
Look out for these 10 red flags next time you start a relationship online:
1. 🚩 Picture-perfect photos
Professional looking photos of extremely good-looking people are (usually) a dead giveaway. Folks like you and me just don’t have these professionally taken, beautifully lit, perfectly angled photos.
What’s an Angelina Jolie/George Clooney/RuPaul look alike doing on a dating site, chatting to the likes of us anyway? It’s tempting to believe we’ve hit the jackpot, and our scammer is probably thinking the same thing.
2. 🚩 A handful of photos and friends
Scammers can’t rustle up more than a couple photos of the same good-looking person to use on their social media and dating profiles.
They may also have only a few ‘friends’. Is it really possible that they’ve just joined social media? Far more likely, they invented their profile just for you.
3. 🚩 Doesn’t speak like a native
Grammatical errors, odd word choices, and spelling mistakes should raise your scammer alert. Especially if you’re chatting with someone with an English-sounding name, claiming to be from the US or an English-speaking country. This isn’t a native English speaker named Sarah Jones.
Scammers are lazy and often copy-paste their messages from a script. That’s why, when the conversation veers wildly off topic or the flow doesn’t make sense, a red flag should go up. A foreign accent on the phone should further confirm your suspicions.
4. 🚩 Moves you off the dating site
Most online dating sites have safety measures to keep scammers at bay. That’s why your new friend will try to very quickly move you to a more private messaging platform. They’ll also try to get your real phone number to establish greater trust and intimacy. That’ll make it more difficult for you to cut things off.
5. 🚩 Professes love quickly
It’s a whirlwind affair – things are moving at the speed of light. Before you’ve caught your breath, they’ve declared their undying devotion. Real people looking for a real relationship usually take their time before they admit their true feelings. If your love interest is rushing ahead, trust your mother and your gut: they have something else in mind.
6. 🚩 Claims to be abroad and can’t meet
Your studly new beau is giving off all the right signals and you can’t wait to fling yourself into his strong, suntanned arms. Problem is, he keeps coming up with reasons why he can’t come out to see you. You can’t visit him, either: he’s in a dangerous developing country, warzone, or oil rig. That’s just the way he likes it.
7. 🚩 Can’t video chat
Your love will put together any excuse to avoid video chatting with you. They don’t want you to discover how they truly look and sound. When pushed, sophisticated scammers may try to use deep fake technology to video chat with you in real time. You can sometimes tell, though–look out for unnatural eye movement or stiff, emotionless, facial expressions.
8. 🚩 Is a master manipulator
The scammer is always a victim of circumstance. They’ll tell you sob stories to gain your sympathy. They make you feel special, like you’re their savior and soulmate. They play with your emotions and use mind games to guilt trip you into following through. That’s how they get you to do their bidding, even if you’re reluctant at first.
9. 🚩Asks for money for emergencies
I wouldn’t ask if I had any other option. Ever heard that before? Seeing you’re now their best and only friend, you feel obligated to assist. The requests won’t stop coming though, and if you say no, they get desperate and even aggressive.
10. 🚩Plans to visit but cancels at the last minute
Despite moving heaven and earth to try and meet up, something always comes up and a real-life date never happens.
If you detect one or more of these tell-tale signs, it might be time to report your sham sweetheart and sign off immediately, even if it hurts.Follow the tips below to save yourself more than just heartache.
How to Avoid Being Scammed
Before you get in too deep, do your homework and trust your intuition. Get a friend’s opinion, too. It’s never easy to admit you’ve been taken for a fool, but it’s better to face the truth sooner rather than later.
Follow these 10 golden rules to know when to draw the line:
1. 📏 Don’t respond to unsolicited messages
Be wary of unexpected friend requests or messages from people you don’t know on social media, even if they’re super nice. Scammers may pretend to have the wrong number. They want you to think they’re so cute, so you’d want to carry on chatting anyway. Watch out–that’s how they get you!
2. 📏 Trust your gut
You’ll intuitively know if something rings false. Unfortunately, your desire for affection can override those warning signals. Keep a cool head and listen to your inner voice of caution.
3. 📏 Run a background check
Your scammer isn’t the only one who can find out things about you. The internet has equipped you just as well to do a little digging. Use tools like Google’s reverse image search to check if a photo has been taken from somewhere else.
Look for inconsistencies in your potential mate’s social media profiles. Run a Google search to see if you can find more information on the person. Run a background check using tools like BeenVerified to find out if this person has scammed someone before. Check scammer databases (like scamsearch.io) for typical stories and scenarios to see if anything sounds familiar.
4. 📏Take it slow
It’s exciting to think you’ve been caught up in a love affair with an international man of mystery, but slow your roll and get to know your potential mate better.
5. 📏Go premium
Skip free dating sites if you want to avoid the riff raff. Use a premium dating service instead. These usually have measures in place to root out unsavory characters. That said, always be on your guard, as some scammers also pay to play.
6. 📏Protect your digital identity
Adjust your privacy settings and limit what you share on social media. Scammers will want to know as much about you as they can before they strike. The more you disclose personal information online, the more scammers will have at their disposal to manipulate, deceive, and even blackmail you.
It’s a good idea to stay anonymous for as long as possible. Use different usernames, emails, and phone numbers on dating sites to protect your privacy.
A powerful VPN can help you ward off even the most sophisticated scammers. Use CyberGhost VPN to help protect your identity and shield your IP and your private data from all prying eyes.
7. 📏Don’t send compromising pictures
No matter how much your new lover begs to see you in all your glory, don’t cave in. Scammers use your naughty pictures to extort money from you.
8. 📏Withhold personal information
Don’t give a stranger the keys to the castle. Scammers may use information like your address, bank details, Social Security number, driver’s license, or any other identifying information to make purchases or to open accounts on your behalf.
9. 📏Never send money
Sometimes your heart can get in the way of common sense, but remember the golden rule: Never send money to someone you’ve never met. Never open a bank account for them and let them send money to or through you.
10. 📏Tell a friend
You can’t always see things for what they are when strong feelings are involved. That’s why you need to confide in a trusted friend or family member about your new relationship. Don’t hide any concerns you may have. They may see something you don’t.
Sometimes, wishful thinking gets the best of us. If you’ve already fallen victim to a scam ploy, keep on reading to learn exactly what you should do.
What to Do If You Think You’re Being Scammed
It’s devastating to realize someone you trusted has deceived you. You just want to cry in your pillow, I know, but you need to take some measures to protect yourself and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Stop All Communications with the Scammer
The moment you suspect something fishy, get off the line. Don’t ask the scammer for reassurance. They’ll manipulate you and have you doubt yourself. Instead, cut off communication entirely, block their phone number, and block them on the dating or social site.
Report It to the Authorities
If you think you may be a romance scam victim, here are some steps you can take:
- 📣 Report the scammer to the FTC, at ReportFraud.ftc.gov
- 📣 Log a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, at ic3.org
- 📣 Notify the dating site or app that you met the scammer on
- 📣 Contact your bank for damage control: block access to your accounts, freeze your accounts, dispute charges, or recover lost funds
Taking these steps won’t just help you stay safe from the scammer. They can also help other victims in the same situation as you.
Keep Records of Your Relationship
It may seem a little intimate and humiliating, but this trail could be used as evidence in court if the scammer is ever brought to justice. You could also post your messages on a site like Scamwarners to help other potential victims recognise the script.
Phone a (Real) Friend
Take a break from the online dating scene and reach out to real friends and family. Listen to them even if you don’t want to hear it! They’ll often have your best interests at heart.
Being scammed can take a huge emotional toll. Prioritize your health and wellbeing, and remember the real people in your world who love and care for you.
If you suspect a friend or loved one could be an online dating fraud victim, be gentle when pointing out the truth. The worst thing you could do is ask them how they could be so stupid. Be kind and help them pick themselves up again. It really could happen to anyone.
Protect Your Privacy with CyberGhost VPN
The hardest lessons can be our greatest teachers. If you’ve been taken for a ride, use the experience and turn it to your advantage. Protect your privacy online and make sure no one preys on your innocence and open-heartedness again.
Use CyberGhost VPN every time you use the web to hide your IP address and encrypt your data. That way, you can protect your identity until you’re ready to reveal yourself. No one can snoop on your online activity to scam you.
Download CyberGhost VPN to stay off the scammer radar and guard your heart (and your wallet).
The Bottom Line
Someone looking for love online, but who’s never able to meet you in person, is probably a scammer.
Scammers do this all day, every day. They’ve accumulated many fool-proof ploys to get you to fall in love with them and give them your hard-earned money.
If you know how they operate, you won’t fall for it. Here’s a recap on how to recognize and avoid romance scams:
|How to Recognize Romance Scams||How to Avoid Romance Scams|
|If your new online lover:||It’s wise to:|
I hope these tips will help all you good people to stay safe out there. It’s normal to want to find love and romance, but remember to love yourself first. That means looking after your own interests and doing whatever you can to protect yourself.
Here’s to you finding your forever and to scammers getting what’s coming!
Have you had any experiences with romance scammers? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. The more we all compare notes, the less likely we are to fall for the next flirty message that finds its way into our inboxes.
These sagas always start the same way. Someone you’ve never met hits you up on a dating app, or sends you a friend request on social media. You start chatting and find your new friend ticks all the right boxes.
All that’s keeping you apart is the great geographical distance between you. They charm your socks off and things progress fast. Before long, they’re talking about marriage. They really want to come and see you, but they need money to make it happen. If you haven’t paused to think already, now’s when you need to pull the breaks. You’re about to be scammed!
The most common scams feature a handsome military man stationed abroad, someone working on an oil rig, or an international businessman with a crazy schedule. The scammer knows just how to flatter you.
They’re instantly charming and devoted. They won’t video chat or even speak on the phone, but are keen on traveling to see you. They need money to book a ticket. Of course, they won’t pitch in (or pitch up!). They’ll have a hundred excuses to keep you on the line. They’ll spin another sob story to get more money out of you.
A scammer typically has a picture-perfect profile. Still, some things won’t add up.
Their English is broken, despite having English-sounding names. They claim to be from the US or another affluent Western nation but are stationed abroad. They move fast and profess their love quickly. They make up excuses as to why they can never meet you face-to-face. They manipulate you with sweet talk. They find convincing reasons to ask you for money, often in the form of gift cards.
They may also try to get you to make some investments or move money around on their behalf and they will almost always disappear as soon as you get too suspicious!
Scams can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. It all depends on how long the scammer can string you along and get your hard-earned cash without giving the game away.
Look out for the tell-tale signs. Don’t accept friend requests or start conversations with someone you’ve never met. Dig into your new cyber friend’s details and background. Look for inconsistencies and clues proving they’re not who they claim to be.
If you suspect you’re being scammed, run a background search using tools like BeenVerified. Be careful about what you share online. Don’t make it easy for scammers to discover everything about you.
Finally, use CyberGhost VPN to protect your privacy by making it harder for scammers to find and target you.