How romance scammers break your heart – and your bank account
What are some of the most common warning signs that your online crush could be a dating scammer?
We’re living in a fast-paced era, and it’s become increasingly difficult to juggle a career, have a social life, and find love. People are increasingly switching to more convenient means to find a connection, like dating apps and websites such as Tinder, OkCupid, Hinge or Bumble. That, unfortunately, may make them targets for dating scammers, who prey on their eagerness to find love.
The FBI’s 2019 Internet Crime Report states that romance and confidence fraud was the second costliest scam, with losses amounting to almost half a billion US dollars. For example, one unlucky woman was swindled out of US$546,000, while a Canadian man was scammed out of CA$732,000, with many victims losing their entire life savings or even going deep into debt.
As the search for romantic bliss usually intensifies around Valentine’s Day, what are some of the telltale signs that your online crush is, in reality, a scammer looking to find a way into your wallet, rather than your heart?
Scammers tend to use stock images of models, who may be styled to sell a specific product. Photos of them posing with beverages and electronics may feel staged and unnatural because indeed they are. If you already suspect something, request a family photo – they will have a hard time producing one since the model they’re impersonating may have not shot a family-themed campaign. Alternatively, they have been known to steal pictures of real people, to make themselves seem more believable.
If you feel something is off about their photos, usually stick with your gut feeling you may be right. In both cases, you can perform a quick check by reverse searching the photos on Google images. Go to the Google images website, click on the camera icon and either drag and drop the photos URL there or the photo itself. If you’re on your phone then screenshot it upload it, to your computer and then use the website. Either way that should clarify your situation a bit.
Quick to profess deep feelings
A major warning sign that should set alarm bells off immediately is when new contacts come on too strong, too soon. Promising their undying affection, telling you they love you or proclaiming that you’re their soul mate within the first few hours of conversation, should arouse your suspicion instantly.
Scammers will try to advance the relationship as fast as possible to make you feel wanted, softening you up with serenades to reach their ultimate goal, your wallet. Most dating services allow you to block and report the profile of the potential fraudster, with the app’s moderation team taking it from there.
Rerouting the conversation to another medium
Another red flag is that scammers make a concentrated effort to move the conversation to another communication platform. Dating platforms have ways to detect scammers besides the reporting feature. In order to avoid triggering these mechanisms, scammers try to coax you into sharing your phone number or email or IM handle. At this point you’re already surrendering too much personal information; to a person you virtually don’t know at all.
If they ask you to switch to another channel of communication too soon, then be wary and report them. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Never able to meet
Scammers love to take on the identities of professionals that inspire trust but often have to work abroad for extended periods of time, such as members of the military, aid workers, or diplomats. These provide them with excuses that don’t raise eyebrows in the context of their profession such as “I’m getting deployed” or “I have to fly off to an urgent meeting”.
As the courtship goes on, you may want to meet your online crush in person. But every time you try to schedule a meeting, they come up with an excuse why they just can’t make it, even if you try to meet them halfway. Canceling a few times is normal but if they shoot down every date you suggest, then you should be suspicious and start questioning their reasons.
Many fake dating profiles created by scammers portray them as Americans or Westerners who are university educated or, as mentioned before, have careers that take them abroad. So, if someone who appears to be an English-speaking native or worldly has a bad grasp of the language, you should be wary.
Of course, typos occasionally happen and not everyone you meet will have a perfect grasp of English. If you are in doubt you can quiz them on the area they claim they are from. Alternatively, you can perform a Google check on them to see if they are who they say they are. Although, that doesn’t have to be a foolproof solution, since scammers can employ the same tactic to answer your questions.
Asking for money
Once the conversation has gone on for a bit, the scammer will try to ask for money. Usually, they will start small, asking for help to pay for a car repair or to buy medicine, anything that doesn’t set off your internal fraud alarm. But as time goes by, they will steadily increase the amount that they need, often feeding you a sob story about how they need it to help pay for the medical bills of their sick relative. Alternatively, they need the money for their fledgling business that isn’t going as well as they hoped.
Scams like these have cost some people their life savings. But that is just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg: up to 30 percent of romance fraud victims have been used as money mules and in some cases became unassuming drug mules smuggling illicit substances across the border, which has led to years in prison when they were caught.
A final piece of advice from Cupid
According to a report published by the FTC, the annual number of victims of romance scams grew from 8,500 to 21,000 between 2015-2018. It still doesn’t show the true extent of the problem, as many victims are too embarrassed to come forward. Relationships are built on trust, but if one starts off on a dating site or app you should always try to verify as much as possible and not blindly trust what your new-found love says.