Romance Scams: It's Not True Love if They Ask for Money

Lots of us have profiles on online dating sites, apps or social media in hopes of meeting "the one." But that interesting person who just messaged you could be a sweet-talking romance scammer trying to trick you into sending money.

Reports of romance scams are growing, and costing people a lot of cash. According to new FTC data, the number of romance scams people report to the FTC has nearly tripled since 2015. Even more, the total amount of money people reported losing in 2019 is six times higher than it was five years ago – from $33 million lost to romance scammers in 2015 to $201 million in 2019. People reported losing more money to romance scams in the past two years than to any other fraud reported to the FTC.

In a sea of online profiles, romance scammers can be hard to detect. But, there are signs you can look out for. Romance scammers start by using someone else's identity to create fake profiles. They'll send you flattering messages to make a special connection, say all the right things, and gain your trust. They might claim to be a doctor, a servicemember, or an oil rig worker living overseas. They want to make future plans with you, but something comes up (a medical emergency, car trouble, a paycheck mix up with their employer, etc.). Then it happens! They ask you to help them out, which nearly always means asking you to buy gift cards (and give them the PIN, so they get the cash) or wiring them money.

Here are a few red flags to help you identify a potential scammer:

  • Scammers generally come on strong in the beginning and try to quickly move communications to email or private messaging, just in case their profile gets flagged or shut down.
  • The information in their online profile may not match what they say or how they sound.
  • Their messages are often vague and poorly written.
  • Their camera never works if you ask to video chat.
  • They always have an excuse or reason for why they cannot travel to meet you in person.
  • After gaining your trust, possibly over an extended period of time, they share an elaborate story that ends in a request for money, gifts, or bank account/credit card information.
  • Their messages become demanding, desperate, and persistent if you do not send money when they request it.

The key thing to remember is that you should NEVER send money or gifts or give your personal information to a love interest you haven't actually met. They could be a romance scammer.

To protect yourself, take the following steps when making an online connection:

  • Run an image search on the profile picture or any other pictures they send to determine if they are really who they say they are.
  • Search online for the type of job the person says they have. See if other people have heard similar stories. For example, you could do a search for "oil rig scammer" or "US Army scammer."
  • Be careful about sharing personal pictures or videos with someone you have only met online.
  • Never send money, gift cards, or bank account/credit card information to someone you have only met online.
  • Do not transfer money for someone else.
  • Do not pick up or accept a package and forward it or deliver it for someone you have only met online.
  • Tell family and friends when and where you are going if you agree to meet an online "friend" in person.
  • Stop communicating with the person immediately if they press you for financial assistance or for sensitive or personally identifying information.

If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, report it to the website, app, or social media site where you met the scammer. Contact your bank and your credit card company if you provided the scammer with account information. Finally, report suspected scams to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

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