Table of contents
- What are romance scams?
- Types of love scams
- 1. Catfishing (fake online dating profiles)
- 2. Romance scammers asking for money
- 3. Fake online dating and “hookup” sites
- 4. Blackmail and extortion using your sensitive photos (sextortion)
- 5. Inheritance scams
- 6. Phishing for personal information (identity theft romance scams)
- 7. Online dating cryptocurrency investment scams
- 8. Getting you to visit phishing and malware-infected websites
- 9. Overseas doctors, developers, or military romance scams
- Signs of an online dating scammer
- How to report a romance scammer
- How to protect yourself from relationship fraud
Almost 70,000 people in the US reported romance scams in 2022, resulting in around $1.3 billion in losses, according to the FTC. If you’re looking for love online, or you use dating platforms and social media to make new connections, it’s important to ensure you don’t become the victim of a fraudster in the future.
What are romance scams?
Romance scams are a common type of con in which fraudsters build up romantic connections with their victims before they steal money or information from them. They may seem harmless at first, but after gaining a victim’s trust, these individuals can be very dangerous.
Romance scammers will often attempt to gain cash or other valuable assets, sensitive images that can be used for extortion, or a victim’s personal information so that they can use their identity to obtain things like credit cards and loans.
Types of love scams
Romance scammers use a number of shady tactics to steal from their victims. These can include catfishing, creating fake dating websites that spread malware or steal sensitive data, blackmailing them with sensitive photos, and claiming to be overseas doctors, military personnel, and more.
- Catfishing (fake online dating profiles)
- Romance scammers asking for money
- Fake online dating and “hookup” sites
- Blackmail and extortion using your sensitive photos (sextortion)
- Inheritance scams
- Phishing for personal information (identity theft romance scams)
- Online dating cryptocurrency investment scams
- Getting you to visit phishing and malware-infected websites
- Overseas doctors, developers, or military romance scams
1. Catfishing (fake online dating profiles)
Catfishing is a term used to describe a romance scam tactic in which a person pretends to be someone they’re not. They may create a fictional persona and use random images they’ve found online, or they may steal someone else’s name, personal details, and photos. Sometimes, catfishers will target a specific victim, but they will often entertain any attention that can get.
To lure in their victims, catfishers will pretend to be romantically interested in an unsuspecting person. This typically happens by message, email, and phone call—but not over a video call, which would give away the catfisher’s true identity. Once they have developed a relationship with their target, catfishers will use manipulation to get what they can from them (usually, it is money or presents).
2. Romance scammers asking for money
The main objective for many romance scammers is to get their victims to send them money. Once they have built up a connection with an innocent individual, they will begin to ask for financial help. This will often involve an “emergency” or a sob story of some kind. For example, the scammer may claim they cannot afford their rent, that their car needs repairs, or that their pet is sick.
Whatever the case may be, the scammer will insist they need money fast. They will often ask for funds to be sent as gift cards, prepaid debit cards, or via a bank or wire transfer. This may happen many times before the victim decides enough is enough, at which point the scammer will lose interest in them and move onto scamming their next target.
3. Fake online dating and “hookup” sites
Singles looking for love can sometimes be incredibly vulnerable, which is why some scammers see them as easy targets. They will set up scam dating and “hookup” websites, promising genuine relationships and legitimate meetups. Unfortunately, the truth is that these websites are complete scams and are usually designed to steal a user’s information.
These sites will often ask users to answer questions or fill out some kind of questionnaire, which will ask for sensitive information that no dating website should need—such as details about your finances and answers to common security questions, such as your mother’s maiden name. Once the scammers have that information, they can use it for all kinds of nefarious activities.
4. Blackmail and extortion using your sensitive photos (sextortion)
Think twice about sending sensitive photos of yourself to someone you barely know. Some scammers make it their mission to obtain images like these, and then they’ll use them to blackmail and extort their victims. This will usually involve threatening to send the photos to a boss or friends and family members unless the victim agrees to pay some money.
Our “What is Sextortion?” guide will teach you more about this. It’s also important to remember that it’s not just scammers themselves you have to watch out for when sending sensitive images. Others may share your images in online groups and forums or forward them to friends without your knowledge. This is often how these images end up in the hands of con artists.
5. Inheritance scams
Inheritance scams are more complex and elaborate than most other romance scams, but they certainly occur on an all too regular basis. With this trick, a scammer claims that they must marry to claim an inheritance—which they will suggest is worth millions of dollars—left by a close friend or relative. They’ll insist marriage is necessary to avoid duties or marriage taxes.
Once the scammer feels like they have built up enough of a rapport with their victim, they ask for help to bring the inheritance into the victim’s country. They will offer to travel and meet their victim to prove they are genuine—but only if the victim can pay for their flight. You may not be surprised to learn that once the scammer has received that cash, they usually disappear.
6. Phishing for personal information (identity theft romance scams)
Phishing scams are incredibly common in today’s world, and some scammers combine these with romance scams in an effort to exploit or take advantage of another person’s feelings. Similar to other scams on this list, the objective is to gather sensitive personal information, which can be used for various illegal financial activities.
This often includes fraudulently applying for things like credit cards, loans, and phone contracts—which the scammer will obviously never pay for, leaving their victims liable for the debts. You can avoid scams like these by never sharing sensitive information like your date of birth, Social Security number, banking details, and address with others.
7. Online dating cryptocurrency investment scams
Cryptocurrencies have become incredibly popular and extremely valuable in recent years, which has led to an unsurprising rise in crypto investment scams of all types. Once a scammer has formed a relationship with their victim, they will claim to be some kind of “investment manager” who can supposedly help their love interest make a lot of money.
They will then persuade their victim to buy valuable cryptocurrencies—which can be incredibly difficult to trace—and deposit them in the victim’s own wallet. Alternatively, they might use scam cryptocurrency websites to steal digital assets when a user connects to them. In most cases, cryptocurrencies can never be recovered, so scams like these are getting increasingly popular.
8. Getting you to visit phishing and malware-infected websites
The internet is filled with phishing and malware-infected websites today, and by following safe browsing practices, it’s not too difficult to avoid them. However, some romance scammers try their utmost to get victims to visit these pages, where their personal details may be stolen, or their devices may be infected with malware and viruses without their knowledge.
Scammers will often send links to these sites through messaging platforms or through online dating sites like Tinder and Match.com. Many will claim the site is a personal website or blog, where their love interest can see more pictures of them or learn more about them. Whenever someone on a dating site pushes you to visit a link, it’s best to view it (and them) with suspicion.
Fortunately, you don't have to be on the lookout for suspicious websites all the time—you can get Clario AntiSpy to do it for you. Clario AntiSpy’s web extension will let you know if the website is safe to browse or if it seems dangerous.
Follow these simple steps to enjoy the four pillars of Clario AntiSpy’s Safe browsing:
- Download Clario AntiSpy and get a subscription to create a profile
- On the left-side menu, click Safe browsing
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9. Overseas doctors, developers, or military romance scams
With these scams, swindlers use the names and identities of real doctors, developers, military personnel, and other trusted professionals in an effort to make them appear more appealing online. They will regularly use technical jargon associated with these roles, and make references to things like military bases, to make their act more convincing.
Once they have gained their victim’s trust over time, the scammer will then claim they have to be “deployed” overseas. Soon after, they will use a variety of tactics to try to take money from their victim, like claiming their own bank accounts or credit cards are temporarily blocked, that they do not have access to an ATM, and more.
Military romance scams, in particular, have become so common that the US Army has published a fact sheet on how to spot and avoid scammers claiming to be American soldiers. “The Army reports that several senior officers and enlisted Soldiers throughout the Army have had their identities stolen and used in these scams,” reads the article.
Signs of an online dating scammer
While online dating scams like these have become a worrying trend, the good news is that it’s not too difficult to avoid potentially dangerous love schemes. Most of them follow a very similar trend: the fraudster lies to build up trust and a false romantic connection with their victim and then uses that to obtain money, personal information, and more.
Here are some common signs of an online dating scammer that you should look out for:
- An obviously fake profile and photos
- Refusal to meet in person or on a video call
- Frequent claims and stories that seem suspicious or too good to be true
- Claiming they are in love soon after meeting and using other “love-scamming” tricks
- Asking for money and personal information they do not need to know
- Asking you to visit websites or download apps
- Asking you to buy cryptocurrencies, gift cards, and prepaid debit cards
Online dating scammers are using increasingly sophisticated tactics in an effort to steal from their victims, but there are common signs that will often give them away. These include using fake profiles and images, refusing to meet in person or on a video call, and asking for money or personal information.
How to report a romance scammer
If you, unfortunately, fall victim to a romance scam, it’s important to report it. It’s completely normal to feel embarrassed or ashamed or like you want to simply move on and not tell anyone. But when you report a romance scammer, you help protect others from these individuals and make it harder for them to successfully execute their schemes.
Depending on how the scam was carried out, you may have a number of options. Suspicious messages should be reported to the dating or social media platform on which they were received, such as Tinder or Facebook. If the scammer has taken money from you, it should be reported to your bank—especially if you used a wire transfer, which can be traced.
If you suspect a romance scammer has stolen your identity, this should be reported to the police in your country for investigation. In the United States, you can report scams to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov, and in other countries, you can file a report with similar government or law enforcement agencies.
You can help prevent online dating and romance scams by reporting suspicious behavior and signs of fraudulent activity. Dubious messages should be reported to the dating or social media platform on which they were sent, and you should also tell law enforcement and the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
How to protect yourself from relationship fraud
It may be tempting to trust a seemingly kind stranger when you’re looking for love, particularly when that person appears to be very eager, and they make all kinds of exciting promises, but it’s vitally important to ensure that you only form connections with genuine people. There are some steps you can take to protect yourself from relationship fraud and love scamming:
- Don’t share sensitive personal details with people you do not know
- Don’t share contact details or addresses
- Never send or receive money, gift cards, or cryptocurrencies
- Never share your bank details, Social Security number, or card numbers
- Use only trusted and well-established dating websites
- Consider your actions before video calling or sharing sensitive photos
- Trust your gut instincts
Of course, it may be difficult to avoid some of these things once you start to form a genuine connection with someone. For instance, you may want to give out your phone number or meet someone on a video call if things are going well—and it’s safe to do that once you have established that the person you’re speaking to is authentic and trustworthy.
Perhaps the most important step is the last one: trust your gut instincts. Follow the advice above to spot potential fraudsters and be on your guard. If a person is overly keen or they seem too good to be true, they usually are.
You can enjoy safe online dating and protect yourself from dating scams by not sharing sensitive personal details, never sending money or revealing your banking information, using only trusted dating platforms, and considering your actions before joining video calls or sending sensitive photos.
As we’ve explained throughout this article, romance scams are a very real threat, and there are a number of popular tactics in use that you should know. However, there’s no need to avoid online dating altogether. By being aware of common scams and learning the signs you should look out for when building connections online, you can protect yourself from relationship fraud.
If you suspect a relationship scammer may have already targeted you, see our guide on what to do if you get scammed. You can also use Clario AntiSpy on your smartphone to improve device security, hide your real location, and protect your social media accounts.