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Don’t Get Duped by an Online Romance Scammer

It’s said, “’Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” Perhaps true, unless you lost a large amount of money to a scammer … If you’re looking for love online, you’ll want to learn about online romance scams. Heartbreak hurts — but financial loss may hurt more.

The upside? Dating apps work. A study by the Pew Research Center reported that 57% of online daters had an overall positive experience with dating platforms, and 54% agreed that new relationships formed on a dating site or app are just as successful as relationships formed in-person.1 You could probably name at least one person you know of who successfully met a partner using a site like match.com or an app like Hinge or Bumble.

The downside? Unfortunately, there’s the chance of falling for a romance scam, instead of in love. Dating is hard enough! Between ghosting and harassment, singles now risk mistaking being smitten with being scammed. Criminals disguised as romantic interests seduce victims into giving them money, sharing personal/financial information or both. In 2019, consumers lost $201 million to romance scams and 25,000+ filed a report about a romance scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), according to the FTC and its Consumer Sentinel Network.2

To help you dodge a romance scam, here’s what you should know about how it works:

The Matchup

Finally, you meet someone who seems promising. This person fits all your criteria and it feels too good to be true. The match shows a strong interest and is eager to get to know you. You’re encouraged to communicate privately outside of the app through email, text and eventually phone calls. The relationship progresses quickly and for months as you both establish trust and profess your love to one another.

The Red Flags

You’re on cloud nine — but skepticism creeps in (always trust your gut). First, there never seems to be a good time to meet in person. It’s one excuse after another followed by a promise for next time. Fraudulent relationships are often long-distance with the sly con artist living in a different country or abroad for business, military deployment, charity work or a remote job.

The Ploy

The scam reveals itself when the love interest urgently asks you to wire money because of an emergency, crisis or tragedy. A heartfelt story may come along with the request, like they need money to cover medical expenses for a sick relative, preying on your emotions. The scammer may ask to borrow money for business purposes or to use toward travel so they can finally meet up with you. Requests to send gift cards, open a bank account on their behalf or ship items are other big tip-offs. If you happen to give in to their request and they continue to ask for more money, that’s your clue to cut them off immediately.

The Emotional Aftermath

Some victims feel foolish and ashamed for falling into their trap. Keep in mind, these charismatic and charming pros are experienced experts at conning people looking for love. It can understandably be a devastating situation. Not only do victims experience financial loss, but they also lose a romantic connection and potential future with this person. If you happen to get conned, it’s OK for you to grieve and go easy on yourself as you heal emotionally.

Dating With Caution

Try not to let the threat of getting scammed stop you from meeting people on dating sites or apps. A 2019 study by The Knot found that 22% of couples who meet online get engaged, and 30% of engaged couples met using Tinder.3 The key is to date online with prudence. For the safety of daters, RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, offers a list of suspicious and manipulative behaviors to be aware of, like giving vague answers to questions and requesting your home address to send flowers and gifts.

How to Protect Yourself

Don’t ignore these warning signs:

  • The photo looks more like a model’s headshot (you can do Google reverse image search to see if the picture is used elsewhere under a different name or for a different purpose).
  • The romantic prospect falls for you intensely, showers you with compliments and escalates the relationship.
  • You’re quickly asked to communicate off the platform.
  • They threaten to end the relationship if you don’t send money or other requested items.

Keep these tips in mind:

  • No matter how exciting the romance is, don’t rush into anything and take time to truly get to know the person.
  • Question someone who reaches out to you from overseas or who has an obscure job.
  • Don’t share personal or financial information or intimate photos.
  • Be cautious of someone who tells an overly grandiose or compelling story to hook you.
  • Listen to family or friends who suspect something suspicious.

In recent years, the total reports of loss due to romance scams were higher than any other scam reported to the FTC.2 If you suspect that you’ve engaged with an online romance scammer, make a report by visiting ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

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The material presented here is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be used as financial, investment or legal advice.