Romance Scams

May 2, 2024

Categories: Scams & Fraud

By Dawn Kellogg

Online dating and social media have opened up a whole new world of possibilities for connecting with people. But beware. Among those who are genuinely looking for the perfect soul mate or social interaction are those who have a much more sinister goal – to find the perfect victim for a scam.

The Federal Trade Commission reported that in 2022, 70,000 Americans fell victim to online romance scams, losing over $1.3 billion to these swindlers. But that’s just the tip of the cold-hearted iceberg.

What is a romance scam?

An online dating or romance scam is when a person is deceived into believing they’re in a romantic relationship with someone they met online when, in actuality, that person is a cyber criminal using a fake identity to gain their trust to ask (or blackmail) them for money. While the criminal will want to move things along quickly, these schemes may be cultivated over many months while targeting many other unsuspecting victims.  

In a romance scam, a criminal will create a fake profile on a dating site or social media app. They will move fast, striking up a conversation, commenting on your posts, regularly chatting, and speeding up the relationship so that trust is gained early on. They then coerce their victims into giving them personal information and/or money for various reasons. Based on the interests you shared, the scheme will be tailored to your situation, it could be an investment opportunity, funds to pay for a visit, etc. Your responsibility is to be aware so that you are not taken in.

Some of the most common internet dating scams include:

  • Fake dating sites – sites that claim to be legitimate but are actually filled with scammers or even underpopulated. These sites are created to get your information.
  • Photo scams – scammers will convince their target to send personal info in exchange for intimate photos. Ultimately, they will blackmail you into paying them in order to not publish them on social media.
  • Military romance scams – a scammer will pose as a member of the military and deployed. They will use military jargon and titles then ask for money to cover expenses typically covered by the military, such as flights home.
  • Code verification scams – a scammer will send a fake verification code through email or text, posing as a dating app or website. Once clicked on, it will ask for personal information including things like Social Security and credit card numbers.
  • Inheritance Scams scammers make their victim believe they need to get married in order to receive an inheritance. They will ask for help in paying for something like airfare.
  • Malware scams – common on dating sites. The recipient will interact as a scammer who sends them a website that looks legitimate, but it’s a page including malware.
  • Sugar Daddy scams – a scammer will pose as a wealthy individual hoping to send money to a younger person in exchange for online companionship. Once they build trust, they’ll ask for an upfront fee or personal info to send you an allowance.

The Lies They Tell

Scammers are crafty, and it can be hard to see through their deception – especially when emotions are involved. Look for these red flags:

They say that they are far away – Stories include working on an oil rig, in the military, they’re a doctor for an international organization, they’re working on a construction project in another part of the country or outside the U.S.

Their profile seems too good to be true – A legitimate dating site has plenty of photos, and people might have links to their social media channels. A fake dating profile might be fake if it is missing details, or maybe hobbies and interests match yours – exactly.

The relationship is moving too fast – A scammer will profess love to you surprisingly quickly (they might even propose). They suggest that you communicate off of the dating site and promise to meet you in person.

They break promises to meet with you Scammers want to keep their identities a secret and one way to keep their victims from questioning their identity is a promise to come visit. They may even have you pay for the plane ticket! But they’ll cancel at the last minute providing an elaborate reason why they are unable to see you.

They ask for money – If a scammer asks for money and hasn’t even met you, BEWARE! They may ask for money for travel expenses, a medical procedure, family emergencies, to help them get out of debt, etc. They will have a seemingly good story to back it up. They may even send you money, roping you into a “money mule” scam where they ask to deposit money into your bank account, distribute the funds to other people, or deliver packages. These could be tied to money laundering.

They’ll tell you how to pay – Scammers will suggest wire transfer, gift cards, or a new bank account in your name.

How to protect yourself

Besides losing money, romance scams also leave victims feeling heartbroken, depressed, and embarrassed. Here are some tips to protect yourself.

  • Don’t overshare personal information.
  • Limit what you share on social profiles. Scammers will use that info to better understand and target you.
  • Go slowly, ask lots of questions. Don’t let the scammer rush you into leaving a dating site to communicate directly.
  • Pay attention to your conversations. Do the messages look like they could be copy and pasted into any conversation? Does the conversation make sense? Is spelling and grammar correct (sounds silly, but someone who is trying to woo you will do his/her best to put their best foot forward and not make grammatical errors). Do they make excuses when you ask to video chat?
  • Listen to your gut. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Raise awareness. Make sure that your friends and family know about these scams as well. Scammers are ruthless and prey on the innocent, those who are living alone or perhaps grieving the loss of a significant other.

If you suspect a scam, stop communicating immediately. Talk to someone you trust – are they concerned about your new love interest? Search online for the type of job that the person has, adding the word “scammer” (e.g. “oil rig scammer,” or “US Army scammer”). Have others posted similar experiences? Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. Is it associated with another name or details that don’t match up?

You can report a scam. If you paid a scammer with a gift card, wire transfer, credit or debit card or cryptocurrency, contact the company or your bank right away. Tell them you paid a scammer and ask if there is any way to have the funds returned. Report it to the FTC at Notify the social networking site or app where you met the scammer, too.

If you’re out there, by all means enjoy the online dating experience – many great matches have been made that way but stay safe! Your heart and your wallet will thank you!

For more information, visit our fraud prevention page.  Fraud Prevention Center | The Summit Federal Credit Union (

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