Romance fraud is one of the most popular types of cybercrimes. Internet users, desperate for human contact, are easy victims for seasoned scammers. It’s easy to see why — cybercriminals don’t need to work very hard to gain people’s trust without ever meeting them.
Jun 08, 2021 · 5 min read
What do online dating scams look like? Some are carried out by individuals looking to lure money out of their victims by building a strong relationship and then pretending they need money.
Other online dating scams can be well-planned operations involving multiple people and built around dating websites. These operate in different ways. Some will fool you into becoming a long-term paying customer, while others may try to install malware on your device.
Then, they can log your actions online, film you through your webcam, and then use this information for blackmail. They could also steal your credit card and online banking information. Or they might encrypt everything and demand you to pay ransom to regain access to your data and devices.
These scams have been widespread for a while, but they're getting worse every year. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US has reported a sharp increase in the yearly financial damage caused by online dating fraud between 2016 and 2020. During this five year period, estimated losses shot up from $75M to $305M annually, a rapid spike of $230M.
That massive four year jump is being driven by the growing number of people falling victim to these crimes. Back in 2016, there were approximately 11,000 reported online dating scams in the US. By 2020, that figure was up to more than 32,000. These numbers could be even higher if unreported incidents were factored in.
And while this is just one fraudulent tactic among many, it's striking how much financial damage it can do to an individual. The average loss resulting from an online dating scam is more than ten times that of any other kind of fraud, coming in at around $2,500 for most victims last year.
Romance scams, also called sweetheart scams, begin the same way any other online relationship does. Someone chats you up, and you start talking daily. The person on the other side of the screen might seem like any other online friend, but if you put too much trust in someone you hardly know, you might regret it. Here are some signs that your romantic interest is not who they say they are:
Some people choose to keep their lives private and stay away from social media altogether. That’s a reasonable decision. But it can be suspicious if your new romantic interest doesn’t have any digital footprint at all. For most people, you’ll find something if you search for their name, email, or username: things like work or university accounts, high school or local newspaper articles, petitions they’ve signed, etc. But if there’s nothing at all or some things just don’t add up, you should ask them about it and see how they react.
You love jazz, they love jazz. You like dogs, they can’t wait to get one once they move to a bigger house. You enjoy seafood? Of course they make a killer shrimp gumbo. If they are overly enthusiastic every time you talk about something you enjoy, chances are, they are pretending to seem more relatable than they really are.
All of their photos look retouched, they are always posing, and they look perfect in every pic. Some people do put a lot of effort into their online image, but that’s usually part of their job. If your new friend has a regular day job, posing for hours and searching for perfect lighting every single day seems unrealistic.
In the age of prolific Instagram models, getting hundreds of pictures of someone is very easy. If you ever feel suspicious, ask them to video chat. Just make sure to use well-known, trustworthy software to do it.
A lot of people need to constantly travel for their job. But online scammers will always say they live far away or are on the move to avoid meeting you in real life. It’s also easier to explain different time zones or sudden disappearances. It buys them time to build a stronger relationship with their victim without ever meeting them.
When you spend weeks or even months getting to know somebody, you’ll start to like them a lot and it’ll look like they like you. This makes it very hard to take a step back and see the full picture. But if someone you met online and never saw in real life asks you for money, it’s a huge red flag. They are almost certainly a scammer.
They will tell you sad, heartbreaking, or terrible stories. They might claim that they have no friends or family to help them or that they need help immediately due to an emergency. Don't give in, question everything in their stories, and stay skeptical. If they mention Western Union, block them immediately and pat yourself on the back for avoiding a scammer.
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