Scammers and fraudsters know that online dating websites see a surge in sign-ups between New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day, and the bad guys are busy trolling for lonely men and women, especially seniors living alone.
You might even have been getting spam emails to sign up to match-up websites.
Whether you are trying out online dating for the first time or just looking for a spring fling, put your romance scam detection skills on high alert.
This Scam Alert is a warning and a reminder that it could be a con artist on the other end of your website search, not the new love of your life.
The price of romance scams
According to the National Consumers League, romance scams rank consistently as one of the most expensive of all types of scams for the victims.
In many cases, consumers have reported sending tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars to the scam artists.
It’s not hard to see why.
Love is a powerful emotion. Most of us would do practically anything to help out a friend or loved one in need.
Fraudsters know this, which is why they devote significant time and energy to developing friendships and “love” with their victims.
The victim is first approached on an online dating website such as Match.com and social media platforms such as Facebook, or even directly via email.
The scammer claims to be interested in the victim romantically, and when the victim responds, their new “love” tells a story about how they are located far away from the victim, often overseas, and needs your money for medical bills, to get out of jail, or even airfare to visit you and advance the relationship.
It’s a bottomless pit. Once you start paying, there will inevitably be more and more requests for money to cover other fictitious expenses until the victim comes to realize it is a scam and stops paying, or worse, runs out of money.
Scam Alert warning signs
Be aware that the person you’re dealing with is after your cash, not your heart:
Someone you have not met in person quickly offers friendship, romance, and/or marriage.
Asks you to wire money or to cash a check or money order.
The “relationship” becomes romantic extremely quickly, with quick pronouncements of love or close friendship.
Claims to be a U.S. citizen who is abroad, very wealthy, or a person of important status.
Claims to be American, but makes frequent spelling or grammar mistakes.
Asks for help with a business deal.
Asks for money to pay hospital bills, visa fees, or legal expenses and/or seems to have many sudden problems overseas.
Makes excuses about not being able to speak by phone or meet in person.
Asks you to communicate via email, instant messaging, or text messaging and avoid the online dating sites’ messaging services.
Overseas romance scams aimed at travelers
The US Dept. of State warns that romance scams also happen in person, overseas, aimed especially at solo travelers, especially seniors.
Scam Alert final warning
If you’ve been approached by someone you think could be a romance scammer or if you’ve already fallen victim, DON’T keep speaking with the person who approached you.
Ignore their emails, phone calls, IMs, or other communications. Instead, use the online dating site’s abuse flagging system to mark the account as suspicious and file a complaint at Fraud.org.
Remember, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
That includes offers of romance with a virtual stranger (pun intended).
We want to hear from you:
If you have been the victim of a fraud, or know somebody who has been the victim of a fraud, let us know.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll check it out.
This article was published originally in 2018 and is updated and republished annually, including for Valentine’s Day 2021.