Financial scams come in a variety of forms, but one of the most damaging is the romance scam. The wounds aren’t just financial; people often develop feelings for the person they believe they know, and their betrayal can cause emotional wounds that take months or even years to heal.
It’s a tough position to be in, so the best-case scenario is to recognize the signs before you fall into one. We’ll talk about these below along with what you can do if you believe you’ve encountered a romance scammer.
Five signs of a romance scam
Romance scams often begin as a traditional romance. They often start on dating sites or apps, and it might seem to go really well at first. But in these cases, the scammer is just trying to build trust so they can ask for money or personal information they can use to rob their victims. Here are five signs to watch for.
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1. They fall in love quickly
Scammers aren’t actually in it for the relationship. They want things to get serious as quickly as possible so they can get their money and get out. Many are quick to claim they’re in love and shower their victims with compliments.
They may get offended if you try to set boundaries or request that they slow things down. But don’t let this deter you from following your gut. You should only move at a pace you’re comfortable with.
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2. They want to communicate more privately
Dating sites and apps often have tools in place to try to identify and remove scammers from the platform. They aren’t perfect; new scammers add themselves daily, so it’s tough to keep up with all of them.
To avoid being caught, many scammers try to get you to leave the site or app quickly so they can continue to talk to you without fear of discovery. Again, this is a situation where you have to trust your gut. If it seems suspicious, politely decline.
3. They don’t share a lot of photos
Scammers don’t want you to get to know them too well. Many use fake profile photos stolen from others. It might appear to be legitimate at first glance, but if you dig deeper, perhaps using a reverse image search, you might find out the photos come from somewhere unexpected.
Of course, AI adds a new layer to all of this. It’s now easier than ever for scammers to generate fake photographs that appear real. Sometimes, it’s possible to identify these photos by looking closely at the details. For example, AI-generated people sometimes have four or six fingers instead of five. But you can expect this technology to improve over time, and when it does, photos may not be a reliable way to determine the legitimacy of an online profile.
4. They don’t want to meet you in person
Most romance scams take place online. Scammers often use excuses like saying they work in the military or on an oil rig to explain why they can’t meet you in person. Others may arrange a date and time to meet you and fail to show up, claiming there had been some sort of emergency.
5. They ask for money
The whole point of a romance scam is to get money out of a person. So eventually, the scammer will make up an emergency they claim they need money for. Or they might say they can teach you how to better invest yours. Either way, the end result is that they want you to send them your hard-earned dollars.
Even more suspicious is when they ask for the money in a way that’s hard to trace, like through a gift card or cryptocurrency. Asking for a wire transfer is also a red flag. Scammers might get angry if you refuse to send the funds, but it’s important to hold your ground and say no.
What to do if you encounter a romance scammer
When encountering a romance scammer, it’s important to first protect yourself. Stop all communication with the scammer and don’t give them any more personal information. If you’ve previously shared personal details with them that might give them clues to your account passwords — for example, your mother’s maiden name — be sure to change your passwords and your security questions immediately.
Then, take steps to protect others. If the person made contact with you on a dating site or app, notify the company that operates it immediately so it can deactivate the profile. You should also notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Provide all details you know about the person, including the platform they contacted you on, the name they used, and how they tried to get money from you. It may be helpful to save screenshots of some of your conversations if possible.
Those who have already given away cash to a romance scammer should file a police report with their local police department. They should also take the steps above to prevent further losses.
It’s a tough position to be in, especially after you’ve invested so much time and energy into getting to know someone. But try to give yourself some grace. These scammers are tricky, and anyone can fall into their traps. Keeping the above steps in mind and keeping your personal information private until you know you can trust a person can help you avoid falling prey to a romance scam again.
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