Be On Guard Against Romance Scams

When it comes to matters of the heart, it’s normal to want to believe the person you’re interested in is honest and caring. However, the reality is that some individuals exploit others’ desire for connection and trust, and thereby take advantage of goodhearted people for their own gain. Such romance scams target individuals of all ages and backgrounds.

Here are some warning signs to keep a lookout for:

1. Scammers have a very limited social media footprint. Not everyone has a huge online presence, so having only one account isn’t necessarily proof that you’re dealing with a scammer. But if they have a new profile that only features a photo and very sparse details about themselves, only a handful of posts, and a very limited number of friends/connections, be on guard.

2. Scammers claim to live somewhere else than you. They usually claim to live many hours away, out of state, or even in a different country. Sometimes they say their job requires them to be away, such as being a deployed member of the military, working on an oil rig, or working for an international organization that places them on a long-term assignment ‘in the field.’ 

3. Scammers avoid video chats. They desperately want to keep their true identity a secret, so they’ll come up with lots of different excuses for why they can’t video chat. Sometimes they’ll even refuse to talk on the phone in real time so you don’t discover that their voice doesn’t match up with the person they claim to be.

4. Scammers want to move fast. Real relationships take time to develop, so if someone starts love bombing and talking about the “special connection” you share very soon after meeting online, it’s usually an attempt to reel you in emotionally. 

5. Scammers may make plans to meet in person, but then cancel them. To throw you off guard, scammers may say they’re excited to meet you in person and would love to make plans, yet that they can’t for a variety of reasons. They may claim they don’t have the money to book a flight, hoping that you will offer to send them the necessary funds, but then cancel the trip at the last minute.

How to Protect Yourself

Scammers try to get you to fall for them quickly so they can prey on your trust in order to extract money from you, or get you to share highly personal information with them so they can pressure, threaten, or blackmail you later. Regardless of how genuine the person comes across online, make sure you: 

1. Trust your gut. If something feels off or too good to be true, it probably is. Listen to your intuition and don’t talk yourself out of ignoring any red flags.

2. Do your research. Look up the person’s name online and see what you can find out about them. If they have a LinkedIn profile, that’s a good starting point. The aim here isn’t to be unduly suspicious, but simply to try to verify that they are who they claim to be. 

3. Don’t send them intimate or compromising photos. Even if they share what they claim are private photos of themselves, don’t reciprocate. Your real photos could be used against you later on.  

4. Don’t share your financial information. Don’t let the person know your income or how much money you have in savings or in investments. Similarly, don’t share your bank account details, credit card numbers, and social security number, which could be used to steal your identity. 

5. Don’t send them money. Scammers will try to manipulate you with sad or scary stories about a sick relative who needs immediate medical treatment that they can’t afford, debt that needs to be paid to avoid mortgage foreclosure, or something similar. Or they may tell you about an ‘amazing’ investment opportunity that they will take care of for you if you send them the necessary money. A related scam involves someone claiming they’re a wealthy foreigner who needs your help transferring money out of the country (often called the ‘Nigerian Prince’ scam).

6. Report Suspicious Behavior: If you come across suspicious behavior, report it to the social media platform or dating site you met on. For more serious matters, contact law enforcement.