Don’t Let a Romance Scam Break Your Heart or Empty Your Bank Account

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, love is in the air and those who currently lack a significant other may decide to join a dating website to meet new relationship prospects. Unfortunately, there are plenty of scam artists who target dating site users and try to swindle money from them by exploiting their desire for companionship. The FBI calls these types of online encounters Romance Scams and reported that, in 2016, victims of this type of scam lost over $230 million. The criminals behind romance scams often take their time and groom their victims in an effort to convince them that they have indeed found true love. The process can take weeks or even months as the criminals build a fake relationship with their victims, sharing seemingly intimate details to be as convincing as possible. It’s easy for dating site users to get caught up in a romance scam as they try to remain hopeful and keep their hearts and minds open for a new relationship. This is why it’s important for users to recognize a potential scam early before they become too emotionally invested in the other person.

If you are currently active on a dating website or intend to be in the future, make sure to protect yourself from romance scams by keeping your eyes open for the following red flags.

Red Flag #1: Pictures that look “too good to be true.”
Be skeptical of profiles that have photos that look like they were taken by a professional photographer. Most legitimate dating site users upload “selfies” or photos taken with friends and family, do not look modified or “Photoshopped,” and lack that “perfect lighting” look models and actors have in their professional portfolios. If you see a profile picture that seems “too good to be true,” save the picture to your computer’s hard drive and upload it to the image search on your web browser to see if the image appears anywhere else on the internet. This is a great way to see if the picture in question was stolen from another website and help you determine if you are communicating with someone hiding behind a fake profile. Also, if a profile only has one or two pictures on it, this could also be an indication that the user is masquerading as someone else.

Red Flag #2: The person wants to quickly move the conversation to a new communication platform.
After spending a reasonable amount of time chatting with a new dating prospect, the next step is usually exchanging phone numbers to continue the conversation over the phone or via text message. However, if you feel you haven’t spent enough time getting to know the person through the dating site and he or she asks to exchange phone numbers or email addresses, don’t be afraid to decline that request until you feel more comfortable. If the other person becomes demanding or pushy about it and doesn’t respect your wishes, he or she may be afraid that the dating site is about to suspend or delete the fake account. At that point, consider ending all contact with that person and moving on to other prospects.

Red Flag #3: Plans to meet in person never materialize.
Although it’s important to build up a reasonable amount of trust online before meeting each other in person, the goal of using a dating site is typically to find someone compatible with whom to spend your time and share your life. This goal is impossible to achieve if you never actually get to meet the person. If you have attempted to meet a particular dating site user several times but plans keep falling through or the user continuously provides excuses as to why he or she cannot meet you in person, this may be a sign you’re talking to a scammer. Set a low limit as to how many excuses you are willing to accept and, once that limit is reached, move on to other prospects.

Red Flag #4: Sob stories.
If a person communicating with you on a dating site starts talking about his or her current financial struggles, especially if you have yet to meet in person, be aware that this will likely lead to requests for money. There is never a valid reason for someone on a dating site to ask you for money, even if the person has spent weeks or months trying to convince you that he or she is in love with you. As soon as the first request for money is made, end all contact with that person immediately.

Although online dating can be a fun, easy, and enjoyable way to meet the love of your life, keep in mind that it can expose you to scammers who are only interested in profiting from your single status. As you spend time getting to know new people, don’t let your heart rule your head and use common sense to avoid having your heart broken, your time wasted, or your bank account drained. Never divulge financial account information or personal information such as Social Security numbers, home addresses, or work locations to people you’ve met on dating sites. Never send money to dating site users in response to their claim of financial hardship. Be sure to do your research on dating prospects and, should you decide to meet any of them in person, let friends and family know where you are going and with whom you are meeting. Set up a time to call and “check in” with a trusted friend or family member during or after the date to let them know that you’re safe.

For more information on Romance Scams, be sure to review the FTC blog post and last year’s FBI alert.