With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, don’t let your quest for love blind you to the realities of romance scams. Online dating and social media have made it easier than ever to meet new people and find dates, but unfortunately con artists create compelling backstories, and full-fledged identities, to trick consumers into falling for someone who doesn’t even exist.
This form of deception is known as “catfishing.” Sometimes a catfisher is simply a lonely person hiding behind a fake persona, but often it is the first step in a phishing scheme out to steal your personal information and money.
According to the Federal Trade Commission in 2018, consumers reported losing $143 million to romance scams — a higher total than for any other type of scam reported. The median reported loss was $2,600 and $10,000 for people over 70.
How the Scam Works
Most romance scams start with fake profiles on online dating sites created by stealing photos and text from real accounts.
Scammers often claim to be in the military or working overseas to explain why they can’t meet you in person. Over a short period of time, the scammer builds a fake relationship with you, exchanging photos and romantic messages, even talking on the phone or through a webcam.
Just when the relationship seems to be getting serious, your new sweetheart has a health issue or family emergency, or wants to plan a visit. No matter the story, the request is the same: they need money.
But after you send money, there’s another request, and then another. Or the scammer stops communicating altogether.
Tips to Spot This Scam
Too hot to be true. Scammers offer up good-looking photos and tales of financial success. Be honest with yourself about who would be genuinely interested. If they seem “too perfect,” your alarm bells should ring.
In a hurry to get off the site. Catfishers will try very quickly to get you to move to communicating through email, text message or over the phone.
Moving fast. A scammer will begin speaking of a future together and tell you they love you quickly. They often say they’ve never felt this way before.
Talk about trust. Catfishers will start manipulating you with talk about trust and how important it is. This will often be a first step to asking you for money.
Don’t want to meet. Be wary of someone who always has an excuse to postpone meeting in person because they say they are traveling, live overseas or are serving in the military.
Suspect language. If the person you are communicating with claims to be from your hometown but has poor spelling or grammar, uses overly flowery language, or uses phrases that don’t make sense, that’s a red flag. A large number of scammers are from overseas and English is not their first language.
Hard luck stories. Before asking you for money, the scammer may hint at financial troubles and provide a story that pulls at the heartstrings. Examples of stories range being cut off, their car being stolen, they are taking care of a sick relative, or they may share a sad story from their past (death of parents or spouse, etc.).
Protect Yourself From this Scam:
- Never send money or personal information to someone you’ve never met in person. Never give someone your credit card information to book a ticket to visit you. Cut off contact if someone starts asking you for information like credit card numbers, bank accounts, or government ID numbers.
- Ask specific questions about details given in a profile. A scammer may stumble over remembering details or making a story fit.
- Do your research. Many scammers steal photos from the web to use in their profiles. You can do a reverse image lookup using a website like tineye.com or images.google.com to see if the photos on a profile are stolen from somewhere else. You can also search online for a profile name, email, or phone number to see what adds up and what doesn’t.