You’ve probably heard the story before—a woman who is recently divorced, widowed, or socially isolated reaches out on an online dating site or social media to find romance. A man responds and claims he is working in another country. After building trust with the woman, he says that an emergency has happened and that he needs money desperately. Or, he needs the money to come visit her in the U.S. The vulnerable woman sends money, but that’s not enough. The man asks for more, or perhaps he just disappears.
Unfortunately, this type of romance scam is common. In fact, $201 million was lost to romance scams in 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). That was 40% more than in 2018. People lost money to romance scams more than any other type of scams over a two-year period, the FTC reports.
The scenario we outlined above is typical of how these scammers will approach things, although there are variations. That can make it a little trickier to distinguish from building a real relationship with someone versus falling victim to a scammer.
Unfortunately, women are more likely to fall for romance scams. In 2012, for instance, women were part of 61% of the financial losses associated with romance scams.
If you’re a woman on your own looking to protect your hard-earned finances while using online dating apps or sites, there are a few ways to stay safe:
1. Verify photos
Scammers often will use photos of other people to set up a fake account. You can use “image search” on Google to see if the picture matches the name. Be wary if the picture is affiliated with another name or doesn’t match what the person has told you.
You can also take the same approach with messages that seem fishy. Copy and paste any wording that seems to you to be “too much, too soon,” and search it online. You could very well find the person has stolen the wording from somewhere else, indicating a potential fraudulent account.
2. Don’t accept friend requests on Facebook from people you don’t know
It’s possible that they are looking to connect for fraudulent reasons. For instance, you accept their friend request, and then they start to respond to your postings or write to you privately. Be especially wary if they don’t have a lot of other information attached to their account beyond a photo.
3. Use caution with what you share on your social media postings
Scammers (and for that matter, anyone) can use that information to tailor their responses to you via your dating profile accounts. They may try to forge a connection with you using that information.
4. Go slow
Even if you’re feeling lonely, it’ll pay off in the long run to get to know the person, ask questions, and really see if there is a match. Romance scammers often will try to accelerate the sweet talk to lure in victims more rapidly.
5. Look out for warning signs
Here are a few signs that your potential love interest may indeed be fake:
- They say they will meet in person but then always seem to cancel. (Nowadays, this could mean cancellations via Zoom or other online video platform meetups.)
- They want to devote all their attention to you via incessant messages. This may seem enticing, but it often isn’t realistic for an adult with other life responsibilities.
- Their picture looks almost too good to be true. Again, this is another time to check it against images online.
6. Do not agree to loan money to a new love interest
7. If the person says they work overseas, do a little sleuthing
Scammers often use the same type of job scenario when they try to attract potential victims. For instance, if you search “oil rig scammer” or “U.S. Army scammer,” you can see if their basic story matches what other scammers have used. You also may be able to check if the person works for the actual company they say the work for, especially when living overseas.
8. Run the situation by a friend
You may be a little too attached to the situation to want to see it objectively. A friend or trusted family member can let you know if there are any red flags about the potential love situation or suitor.
9. Report and send a complaint if you do get scammed
Let the FTC know via the website https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/, and let the dating app or website know as well so they can handle the scammer’s account.
Remember, you won’t be the first or last person to get scammed, so don’t punish yourself over it. Learn from the situation and move on, so you’re more savvy in the future.