Dating & Romance In Depth

Sections on this page
  1. What Is a Romance Scam?
  2. How Romance Scams Work
  3. How to Avoid Romance Scams
  4. Are Romance Scams Illegal?
  5. How Do I Report Romance Scams?
  6. Which Platforms Are Love Scams Found On?
  7. Who Do Scammers Target?

Have you met someone new online? Is the relationship quickly becoming serious? Are you spending all your time talking with this person but not meeting them in real life? While that may be cause for excitement, it might also be cause for concern. One of the most common forms of fraud is called a romance scam or love fraud. 

What Is a Romance Scam?

In these types of scams, a fraudster pretends to fall in love with someone they meet online. After an intense courtship, what often happens is the scammer will ask for money. 

In 2020, this type of fraud led to losses that increased by 50% over 2019. The median loss was $2,500. In addition, in 2020, the use of gift cards to send money to scammers increased by 70%.

These scams can be particularly brutal since it involves both financial loss and romantic loss. And they’re effective because, when we’re in love, we’re often willing to help those people out with money or other goods. So it’s no surprise that these attacks are increasing rapidly in frequency.

How Romance Scams Work

Romance scams tend to follow a similar format. The overarching idea is to get the victim to trust and fall quickly in love with the scammer. By doing so, it can be easier to ask for and receive money. Here’s how romance scams and love fraud work. 

You Get A Match On A Dating Profile

On your dating app of choice, you get matched with someone intelligent, successful, and appealing. They say they live in a different part of the country or world; frequently, they’ll say they work abroad for business or are deployed in the military. Popular professions are working on an oil rig or as an international doctor. 

After a few conversations, they quickly ask to take the conversation to email or text message.

You Can’t Get Them To Meet In Person

Typically, as you get closer, there will be plans made to meet in person. However, as the date nears, the person backs out. Something comes up, and they keep canceling so that you’ll never actually meet them in person. If this keeps happening, it’s a red flag that something may be off.

They Request A Loan Or Financial Help

After a set period, you’ll get an urgent request. It could be to pay a sudden medical debt, or they need a loan for a cash-strapped family member. It could also be to pay for a plane ticket, pay off debts, or pay for travel documents. 

Whether via a gift card, prepaid debit cards, or through wiring money, they’ll ask for money with a promise to pay it back. However, they never will. Gift cards and wire transfers make it impossible to track the money back—an attractive proposition for scammers.

The end goal is to get as much money as possible. The con artist will keep asking for money until you finally realize what’s going on.

How to Avoid Romance Scams

Like all online scams, romance scams can be challenging to detect. Since there’s often genuine love involved with a romance scam, it can be even more difficult to figure out. However, there are a few things to keep an eye on and things you can do to keep yourself (and your money) safe: 

  • Look out for red flags, such as:
    • Requests for financial information. 
    • Request for inappropriate photos that could be used for blackmail later on.
    • Inability to meet up in person (including regular cancellations). 
    • Inability to video chat. 
    • The person’s background stories not matching up or making sense (this is a sign they are telling lies to make your relationship seem more believable). 
  • Do some research on the person before you get too involved. For example, do reverse image searches on their pictures to see if they appear on other websites or forums. (Some scammers even use fake photos.)
  • Check their social media profiles—although not having social media isn’t a sure sign of a scammer, it can be a red flag and sign for you to be cautious. 
  • Ask a lot of questions and see if the answers match up. Scammers can be targeting multiple people at once—you may be able to catch them out if they can’t keep track of all the lies they’re telling.
  • Involve a trusted friend or family member. As an outsider, they may be able to provide a fresh perspective about things not adding up. You should also be cautious if the person tries to isolate you from your loved ones. 

As a general rule, never send money to someone you’ve only met online or by phone. Being skeptical is good, especially when meeting people online for the first time.

Are Romance Scams Illegal?

Yes, they can be. Where the scam takes place is key. The perpetrator may be charged federally with wire fraud or mail fraud if it occurs across state lines. If it occurs internationally, it may be more difficult—the person may be arrested upon entering the U.S. 

These scams are fraud, plain and simple since they are using false pretenses to get funds.

How Do I Report Romance Scams?

If you believe you’re the victim of a romance scam, you have some options. The best thing to do is let the authorities know. To do so, you can report it to:

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
  • The dating website or social media site you used to connect with them
  • Your local police

Which Platforms Are Love Scams Found On?

Though romance scams can happen on any platform, half of them involve social media.
Tinder And Other Dating Apps

A popular place for scammers to find victims is dating apps such as Tinder, Harmony, or Hinge. The problem has become so pervasive that Match Group, which owns dating sites like Tinder and Match.com, ran several PSAs about the dangers of romance scams. 

It’s a popular venue. Since users sign up for these sites searching for love, they assume that others are looking for the same thing. That means that potential victims may already have their guards down when talking to someone on these platforms. That can make it easier for these folks to launch their scams successfully.

Facebook

Scammers will focus on Facebook as a venue to launch their romance fraud. On Facebook, they will send romantic messages and might even pretend to be divorced or in a bad relationship. The idea is to receive money. To do so, they will gain trust by building a relationship through Facebook. 

Another popular romance scam on Facebook is when imposters steal photos from military members’ Facebook profiles and use that photo to create a fake account. From there, they will send hundreds of messages in the hopes of finding someone who will bite.

With over 120 million fake accounts on Facebook and the platform's ease of use, it makes it easy for scammers to propagate this type of attack.

Who Do Scammers Target?

While scammers can target people of all ages, one commonly targeted group is the elderly. Older adults tend to pay nearly $8,000 on average more when they are victims of a scam. For people in their 20s, the median loss is $770. 

For the elderly, romance fraud causes the most significant financial losses among those aged 60 and older. There can be many reasons for this, including elderly folks looking for love after being widowed or not being as technically savvy.

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