There is a surge of sign-ups to online dating sites 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 or social media request to “friend” or follow you.
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.
Love is blind, but romance scammers aren’t.
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.
And that it can happen anytime, not just around Valentine’s Day.
The Price of Romance Scams
According to the National Consumers League, romance scams consistently rank as one of the most expensive of all types of scams for the victims.
In 2021, romance scam victims were cheated out of a record $547 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
In many cases, consumers have reported sending tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars to the scam artists, including in untraceable cryptocurrency payments.
Scammers often look for victims who are unfamiliar with blockchain and cryptocurrency and online payment systems like Venmo an Zelle, because it’s easier to take advantage of them.
As online dating apps become more popular, so do the chances of becoming a victim of a romance scam.
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 scams often begin the same way.
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, you can be sure there will 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.
Romance Scam 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, even sending you multiple emails a day.
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.
ecoXplorer tip – check their online photo
- Romance scammers often lure their victims by sending attractive photos – of somebody else, so double-check whether the image is really your new online “love”.
- You can upload the photo to discover where else that photo has appeared – including on other online dating sites to scam other victims.
- Google Image Search, Microsoft Bing Visual Search, Getty Images and TinEye are some of the popular reverse-image searches that can reveal if your heartthrob’s photo is from a magazine ad or an unsuspecting person’s Facebook page.
- Getty Images is the world’s largest database of photos by professional photographers. Every photo is (C) Copyright and available only as pay-to-use, and Getty has been known to pursue those who violate their (C) Copyright.
ecoXplorer tip – check their online bio
- Romance scammers often are recent sign-ups – anybody who has been a member for less than two years is likely a scammer.
- Anybody with just a handful of posts and/or photos but is following hundreds of people is likely a scammer.
- Spelling and other errors also are a giveaway – no legitimate current or retired member of the US military identifies themselves as “USA Military”, as did one scammer who contacted me.
Overseas Romance Scams Aimed at Visiting Tourists
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, DMs, or other communications.
Many scams go unreported because the victims are too embarrassed to admit they were duped.
It’s important to report the romance scam, to put the scammers out of business and also to save other potential victims from ending up heartbroken, even broke.
Report the romance scammer to 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 periodically.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter is a journalist with 20+ years of experience as a newspaper and magazine writer, radio & TV news producer & reporter, and author of guidebooks and smartphone apps – all focusing on travel, automotive, the environment and your rights as a consumer.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter currently serves as President of the International Motor Press Assn. (IMPA) and is a former Board Member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW)
Contact me at email@example.com.
Copyright (C) Evelyn Kanter