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NordVPN reveals: 24% of Americans have been targeted by romance scams

Romance scams involve a fraudster taking on a fake identity and feigning romantic interest for financial gain. A recent NordVPN survey shows that 24% of Americans have been targeted by romance scams, some with significant financial losses. How do these scams happen — and how can you protect yourself? Read on to find out.

NordVPN reveals: 24% of Americans have been targeted by romance scams

What is a romance scam?

A romance scam is when a criminal adopts a fake online identity and tricks the victim into believing they’re genuinely interested. After forming a romantic bond with the victim, the scammer manipulates them into sending money or performing other financial favors. Romance scams typically occur on dating sites but can also happen on messaging apps or social media platforms (for example, Facebook scams).

They may talk about their strong “feelings” for the victim, paint the details of their life together in the future, and even propose marriage. Once the victim starts to trust the scammer, the criminal will typically make up a story and ask for money or other financial favors.

By this point, the victim is emotionally invested in the “relationship” and may have genuine feelings for the scammer. It becomes difficult to spot the warning signs and say no.

Romance scammers are only after money, so they aim to build the illusion of a relationship as quickly as possible. These scammers are con artists skilled at appearing and sounding genuinely interested.

NordVPN survey shows: 24% of adults have been targeted

A recent survey conducted by NordVPN has revealed that nearly one in four U.S. adults (24%) has been targeted by a romance scam. Those surveyed reported that someone had feigned interest in them — only to get them to send money or access their financial information.

Of those targeted, 19% said they lost between $401 and $2,000 due to the romance scam.

Ten percent said they lost more than $2,000, with a small number of respondents (3%) reporting they lost between $10,001 and $45,000.

The study also found that 27% of U.S. adults have interacted with a profile that turned out to be fake or a bot, while another 27% said they received indecent images they did not request.

When asked about dating app security, 45% of U.S. adults agreed that dating apps don’t do enough to verify their users. Additionally, 42% said that the number of fake profiles and bots on dating sites is growing.

This survey data shows just how important it is to remain vigilant on dating sites and apps. Let’s look at ways to identify a romance scam — and how to protect yourself (and your wallet).

What are the signs of a romance scam?

Romance scammers play with people’s emotions, making it difficult for emotionally invested victims to spot the warning signs. Here’s how to spot online dating scams:

  • A “too good to be true” profile. Scammers often create fake, attractive profiles to get the victims’ attention. However, if a profile looks incredibly impressive, ask yourself: is there a chance it’s fake? Make sure you do your research — type in the person’s name and look them up on other platforms to check they’re really who they say they are.
  • Early and eager devotion. Romance scammers want to progress things quickly, so they may be quick to say they love you, care for you, and can’t imagine their life without you. Be cautious if you hear this after only a couple of days of chatting online and without meeting in person — your new acquaintance could have an ulterior motive.
  • Poor grammar. While it isn’t a warning sign on its own, poor grammar can be one of the signs of a “sweetheart scammer,” especially if you see other red flags. Romance scammers often operate from outside of the U.S., so if they keep making many grammatical mistakes and frequently misspell words, it could be that they’re not who they claim to be.
  • They can never meet in person. Scammers will come up with a thousand excuses when invited to meet in person. It could be that they’re “traveling for work,” they “live abroad,” or are “swamped right now.” If these excuses persist, be wary — the person on the other end may be a romance scammer. And, of course, never agree to meet anyone suspicious — and always make the first meeting in a public place.
  • Financial requests. The most obvious sign of a romance scam is if the person starts asking you for money. It’s best to stop communicating with this person immediately and report them to the dating site or social media platform you’ve been using.

How to protect yourself from romance scams

While dating or social media websites can be a great place to meet someone, it’s important to remain cautious. Dating sites attract romance scammers — so don’t trust anyone too quickly. Here’s how you can avoid becoming a victim of a romance scam:

  • Review your privacy settings. Scammers may use photos you’ve made public to understand your lifestyle and find ways to target you. For example, if they know you’re into sports, they might pretend they’re also an active person to get your attention. Review your social media profile privacy settings and be careful about what personal information is publicly available or visible on the dating site.
  • Don’t share personal details. When you’ve just met someone online, be cautious about what information you share with them. Trust should be built over time, not overnight. Giving personal information — like where you live, work, or plan to travel — could be used against you if the person isn’t trustworthy. Pay close attention if they ask questions they could use for security answers (like your first pet’s name, where you were born, etc.).
  • Only use reputable dating platforms. With hundreds of dating sites available, you may be tempted to opt for a more affordable, lesser-known site. However, trusted dating sites have a reputation to uphold, so they are more likely to have security measures in place to protect their users. Choose a site or app that gets good reviews and learn how it keeps users safe from dating scams.
  • Don’t share your contact information. It is common for romance scammers to want to progress quickly. They may even ask for your phone number after a few online chats so they can keep chatting with you off the dating platform or app. Don’t be quick to share your contact details with someone you’ve just met — it’s safer to keep chatting on the online dating site until you’re confident you can trust them.
  • Go slow and ask a lot of questions. Romance scammers are typically the ones to ask questions. They want to seem like they’re really interested in getting to know you, and they avoid talking about themselves. When you meet someone new online, keep asking questions — and note if the answers don’t match up with what’s shown on their profile or what they said a day ago.
  • Don’t agree to send (or receive) money. No matter what the person says they need it for, don’t send money or your financial details to someone you’ve met online. There are no exceptions: whether they say they’ve “lost their wallet,” are “in grave danger,” or simply “can’t afford to come and see you,” don’t send money to someone you don’t know in real life. Similarly, if they say they want to send you money and ask for your details, don’t. It’s a scam.

What to do if you’ve been scammed

If you suspect you’re dealing with a romance scammer, it’s important to act quickly. Here’s how to handle the situation:

  1. Stop all contact with the individual immediately. Engaging with the scammer and asking them to explain or pay back your money isn’t likely to solve the problem.
  2. Report the incident on the dating app. If you’ve been scammed on a dating app, check what resources the platform has available. Many reputable apps are taking steps to improve the security of their users, so they’re likely to have features allowing you to block the individual and report their profile.
  3. Keep records of your communications. Don’t delete any conversations you’ve had with the scammer. You will need them if you decide to report the incident to the authorities.
  4. Report the incident. Report the incident to the FBI via the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The information you submit may help stop the scammer from taking advantage of anyone else.
  5. Submit a fraud complaint. If you’ve been tricked into sending money to the scammer, you can report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission. Filing a complaint may help law enforcement agencies bring the scam artist to justice.

Survey methodology

NordVPN commissioned a survey of 5,000 Americans across the country. An external agency conducted the survey between 23rd and 27th Jan 2023. Respondents were asked a set of questions about online dating and scams. The sample was representative of U.S. adults (18-64).