Many of us have heard the stories and maybe even watched the TV show.
One person meets another online, whether that’s via swiping left or sliding into someone’s DMs. They fall hard and fast for one another but never meet in person. The next thing you know, one of them is considered a victim—of a romance scam.
And whether you refer to it as catfishing or romance scams, you’ve probably thought “That could never happen to me.”
The unfortunate truth is that you might want to think again.
Reviewing the Numbers
Online dating scams, also called confidence scams, are quickly outpacing other online scams. Statistics from the last five years show a staggering increase in the number of victims and financial loss.
According to the FBI, victim complaints almost doubled in the last five years, from over 12,000 complaints in 2015 to more than 23,000 in 2020.
You needn’t look far to find other jarring online dating scam statistics.
And you also needn’t write off online dating altogether. Knowing what to look for is the first step in avoiding a confidence scam. Here’s how they typically start.
The Anatomy Of A Romance Scam
Many romance scams begin with a person (the scammer,) who is temporarily living or working overseas or is in the military, making advances. Even as they always resist meeting in person or via webcam, they still manage to gain your trust and love.
You see, scammers usually have a script that yields the most success, and they work to foster an emotional connection, so it is no wonder that many people fall prey to the story they craft.
Before long, a major emergency requires that you send them money for something such as airline tickets, getting arrested on their way to see you, having their funds held up, etc.
How Romance Scams Are Evolving
Romance scammers are also keeping up with technology and cultural changes.
The BBB recently reported on two romance scams in particular gaining momentum in 2021.
In both cases, the scammer builds trust, then quickly encouraged to move the relationship off of a dating platform or website. Then, the scammer commits a cryptocurrency scam, convincing victims to deposit money in a trading platform, or a money mule scam, convincing people to transfer money overseas.
How To Avoid Romance Scams
The number one way to avoid scams like this is to never send money to someone you have not met in person.
Also, consider the following online dating advice:
Use a reverse online image search on someone’s profile picture.
Use a paid dating site, which discourages scammers to join.
Communicate only through a dating site until you meet in person.
Ask your friends and family for advice if a conversation seems suspicious.
Use dedicated email accounts and a Google voice account to keep your email and phone number safe.
Reporting a Scam
If you think you have already been a victim of an online dating scam, there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage.
First and foremost, cease all contact with the scammer. If you have wired or sent any money, contact the bank or institution you used to see if the transaction can be stopped. The dating website you use should be notified so they can investigate and delete the account, and you can also file official complaints through the FBI at ic3.gov or the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
Whether you are new to online dating or seasoned in finding love in cyberspace, the tips above can help you avoid the painful pitfalls of romance scams.
So, go forth and find love—safely!