Looking for love online is nothing new. As the internet takes on a central role in almost every facet of our lives, including personal, professional, and leisure aspects, apps, and other online tools have become a popular and effective tool for finding people to date and even for developing long-term relationships. But along with the many happy stories of online dating success comes a darker side: romance scams.
While we may all believe that we are savvy enough not to fall for an internet scam, romance scammers are experts at preying on our insecurities and deepest desires.
Just like Netflix’s “Tinder Swindler”, scammers and con artists are masters at convincing us that they’re the perfect partners and can meet our universal need for love and affection. But once they’ve earned our trust, they go on to take advantage of us.
Beyond the uncomfortable and disappointing realization that someone you’re dating has used misleading photos or told a lie or two about themselves, romance scams can have serious consequences, including theft and fraud. Thankfully, the more you know about romance scams, the easier it is to avoid them.
What is a romance scam?
A romance scam is a crime where a criminal adopts a fake persona online and uses it to mislead people into loving and trusting them. They lead their victims to believe that they are in a close, intimate relationship and then take advantage of their trust and affection to manipulate and steal from them.
Romance scammers often use online dating sites and applications as well as social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. While they often do a great job at seeming caring and honest, romance scammers are actually quite dangerous. According to the FTC, romance scams reached $304 million in losses in 2020, a record high.
We can build a life together (if you send me money)
In a 2019 case, a romance scammer began speaking to his victim, Sophia, online. They entered into what Sophia believed was a romantic relationship with the intention of marrying, but they never met in person. They made plans to buy a home together, a false story that the scammer used to trick Sophia out of £300,000 - money that she got by taking out loans, emptying her savings account, and borrowing from friends and family. The scammer used falsified mortgage documents and fake emails to convince Sophia of his legitimacy.
Once the scammer asked Sophia for an additional £50,000, she became suspicious. Sophia contacted her bank, where she believed she had a shared account with her partner. The bank informed her that her name was not on the account. After investigating further and unraveling multiple lies that the scammer had told her, Sophia understood the severity of the situation. She contacted the police and was able to begin the difficult process of reclaiming her money. Although she was able to recover her funds and pay off her loans, Sophia was left with trauma and emotional wounds.
Help me out - I promise to pay you back!
In another case, a woman named Georgina was contacted on Facebook by a man who claimed to be a serviceman working in Afghanistan. They began an online correspondence that soon turned romantic, with “Jim” using fake photos and stories to endear himself to her, even claiming to have shared Georgina’s experience of losing a spouse to cancer.
Jim claimed to have been transferred to Nigeria, where he was (apparently) living his dream of opening a gemstone store. However, he said that he was struggling to pay an export tax on his gemstones because he was having trouble with his bank card. Georgina sent him $15,000 to pay the tax. But, of course, this wasn’t the end of it.
Jim continued to demand more and more money for taxes, legal fees, and visa documents, always with official-looking forms and certificates to convince Georgina that everything was legitimate. In the end, Georgina gave Jim over $100,000, believing she was helping him and that he would eventually pay her back.
Eventually, Georgina ran out of money. When Jim didn’t stop his demands, she spoke to the police who explained to her that she had been the victim of a romance scam and shouldn’t expect to get her money back.
Both of these are examples of common behaviors and practices of romance scammers who tend to promise victims a future together but always have excuses at the ready for why they can’t meet, asking for more and more money and offering documents that seem to verify their claims.
No matter how skeptical you think you may be, romance scams can happen to anybody. To avoid finding yourself in a similar situation to Sophia and Georgina, there are several steps that you can take to protect yourself from romance scams.
Know what to look out for
Romance scammers will often say they work in jobs that require frequent travel or have irregular hours like the building and construction industry, the military, or medical professions. They claim to be working on projects abroad, giving them an excuse for why they can’t meet in person. They may make promises to meet eventually and even propose marriage, but they will always have an excuse for not being able to meet.
Eventually, romance scammers will ask for money, most often for travel expenses, medical fees, visas or other travel documents, gambling debts, or customs or legal fees. They usually request wire transfers or gift cards, and may ask for your personal documents or bank information to “deposit money”.
Is it too good to be true?
When online dating, it’s best to proceed slowly and with caution. Romance scammers often try to move relationships forward at lightning speed. Reverse image-search their photos to see if they might be using somebody else’s pictures. Try to meet people in person, and beware if they offer excuse after excuse as to why they can’t meet for a number of months.
And no matter what you do, under no circumstances should you give somebody you’re dating online your bank account information or send them money if you haven’t met them in person.
It’s always wise to protect yourself online by using software created to safeguard and secure your online accounts. The Cyrus app was designed to protect you online by securing your accounts and passwords, alerting you to unusual transactions, and minimizing unauthorized access to your accounts.
Download Cyrus and gain the peace of mind that your identity, credit, and finances are secure.