According to the FBI, romance and sweetheart scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim. Scammers will use manipulation or even blackmail to extort money from their victims. While experiencing a double trauma of the loss of funds and the loss of a partner/relationship, some are too ashamed to report the scam.
There has been a large uptick in romance and sweetheart scams since the pandemic when online dating traffic increased significantly. Scammers also have become more creative and convincing. These scammers are experts at conning unsuspecting victims, oftentimes preying on the lonely. They try to move quickly; the quicker something happens, the less time there is for second-guessing or questioning. They may even propose or make plans to meet the victim in person, only to have plans fall through due to unexpected business travel or other excuses.
Romance scammers use a myriad of reasons for asking for money. Here are a few examples:
- Medical Bills
- Stranded in another country or location and need funds for a ticket to get home or to move closer to their victim
- Family member(s) in jail or kidnapped for ransom
- Unexpected legal fees
Avoid Falling for Romance Scams:
- Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
- Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse for why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.
If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, be sure to report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Notify the social networking site or app where you met the scammer, too.