How to recognize romance scams (and avoid them)
Many people turn to online dating apps or social networking sites to meet that special someone. But instead of finding a love match, many find a scammer. The FTC reported that romance scams reached a record $304 million in losses in 2020 and that number keeps growing.
How do romance scams work?
Romance scammers create fake profiles on dating sites or contact their targets through popular social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, or Google Hangouts. The scammers strike up a relationship with their targets to build their trust, sometimes talking or chatting several times a day.
After building an emotional connection, the scammer then takes advantage of the person’s kindness and makes up a tragic story in which only they can help save them. It usually involves asking for money or personal financial information. Some examples include asking you to:
- Pay for urgent surgery or other medical expenses.
- Pay fees to retrieve something of importance.
- Pay off gambling debts to prevent harm.
- Pay for a visa or other official travel documents.
Often scammers ask you for sensitive financial information like your social security number or credit card number. Or request that you pay by wiring money, reload cards or gift cards from leading retail companies or deposit/cash a check they provide and send them the funds.
It’s important to realize that scammers are skilled at this and it’s easy to fall victim to their tactics. Don’t be embarrassed to acknowledge that you’ve been scammed.
Keep these simple tips in mind:
- Watch what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to create an emotional connection with you.
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
- Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
Beware of these red flags:
If you notice any of these red flags in any blossoming online relationship, immediately stop all communication because you are most likely caught up in a scam.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service, or social media site to communicate directly.
- Pay attention if they don’t respond to personal questions or consistently change the subject back to you.
- Suggests that you send inappropriate photos.
- Be cautious if the individual promises to meet and talk in person but then never follows through.
- Beware if the individual asks you to send money, personal financial information, credit or debit card numbers, gift cards, etc.
How to report a romance scam
If you think you've been the victim of a romance scammer, there are a couple steps you can take.
- Notify the dating website or app where you met the person.
- Report it on the Federal Trade Commission's website.
- If you purchased gift cards, contact the company that issued the gift cards right away and explain what happened. They may be able to refund your money.
- Consider changing your passwords, watching your credit report, and more depending on how much personal information has been compromised.
- Review our guide on what to do if you're a victim of fraud.
Romance scams are a double whammy for the victim because they are affected both fiscally and emotionally. It's important to remember to always make financial decisions with your head and not your heart. When your money is involved, keep your eye open for a relationship that seems too good to be true.