These days, if you want to date, there are hundreds of online dating sites and apps out there, but instead of finding love, you may fall for one of online dating scams and lose a lot of money. Most people think that a person has to be “naïve” or “gullible” and the reality is you just need to be human and want to be loved. Sometimes our heart gets in the way of our mind and basic common sense.
What Are Online Dating Scams and How They Work
Online Dating Scams or romance scams are hot topics these days, especially after a report came out from the Federal Trade Commission that said people have lost more than $1 billion in romance scams over the past five years. In 2020, $304 million in losses was reported, and last year, victims of online dating scams lost $547 million.
These reports show that romance scammers are a dangerous breed. They find photos of attractive people or even take on the identity of someone else. Then they create a story and set out to find some victims. They can easily create a perfectly legitimate looking profile, but there is almost always a story about why they can’t meet in person once you get to know each other… they might work on an oil rig, or they are stationed overseas with the military.
Many people who have fallen victim to online dating scams report that they were contacted by these scammers on a dating site, but you really don’t have to be single and looking for them to contact you. They use everything from emails to direct messages on social media to start building a relationship, and many of these start right on Instagram or Facebook.
Romance Scammers Pray on Your Emotions
As master storytellers, cybercriminals involved in online dating scams create a tall tale to con others, and in the process, something always happens — their car breaks down and they need $700 for a repair… their child is sick, and they can’t pay the medical bills… they are a bit short on rent and will be homeless if they don’t pay up… and they come to their “online love” for the cash, but in reality, it’s all a lie. They also might create some sort of reason they need to move funds from one account to another or they have an inheritance that will pay for your lives together, but in order to get it, they need you to be a middleman. In reality, they may be using you to launder money.
You might think that there is no way you would fall for something like this, but millions do each year, and it’s easier to do than you might think. Let’s look at an example.
Finding Your Soulmate
Rebecca D’Antonio was looking for love on the popular dating app, OKCupid. There, she met the man of her dreams, a handsome widowed father from Australia who worked on an oil rig. Rebecca immediately fell for the Aussie, who said his name was Matthew, and they engaged in conversation for weeks before he started needing money for things. Believing him to be her long-distance boyfriend at this point, she was happy to help out when she could. Over time, she ended up sending him around $100,000.
Eventually, Rebecca caught on to the scam, but it was too late. She had to declare bankruptcy, and her life crumbled around her. She ended up confronting “Matthew,” and even explained that she had thought about suicide because she was so distraught about this, and “he” simply responded with “Well, you have to do what you have to do.”
Rebecca wasn’t the only one who fell for “Matthew’s” charms, and eventually, after report after report, it was found that he was actually a member of a Nigerian gang of cybercriminals.
Another well-known case of a romance scam is from the Netflix documentary, “The Tinder Swindler.” The movie is a profile of a man named Shimon Hayut, who went by the alias Simon Leviev. Over time, he was able to swindle people out of more than $10 million in online dating scams.
Look Out for the Lies
The good news is that there are some things that you can look for to determine if a person you meet on an online dating app could be a scammer.
First, most of the time, the person will say that they are not in the US, or they are travelling for an extended period of time. Many will say they work on an oil rig, that they are in the military, or that they are a doctor working overseas with a humanitarian organization.
Next, you should take note of any instances where they ask for money. They often will ask for money for the following reasons:
- To pay for surgery or medical costs
- To pay off gambling debts
- To pay for travel expenses, i.e. a plane ticket
- To pay for a visa or other travel documents
- To pay for custom fees
Even if they ask for something that is not on this list, they may ask for a victim to send money in a certain way. For instance, they may want money wired to this, or they may ask for money in the form of gift cards or a reloadable debit card. They do this because they know that there is only a very small chance that they will be caught, and once these transactions are made, it is almost impossible to get your money back.
What to Do if You Think You are Talking to a Romance Scammer
If you think that you are talking to a person who may be a romance scammer, you should start taking steps immediately.
First, never, ever send money to them. If you already have, stop it immediately. Next, you should cut off communication with the person. Reach out to a person you trust, and then pay attention to what your friends and family have to say about this love interest. You should also consider doing some research about what the person told you. Did they say they were in the US Army and stationed overseas? Where? Is this a common scam when you search Google “US Army scammer”? Finally, you want to do a reverse image search of the photos they are sending you. Do they come up as someone else?
Reporting Online Dating Scams
If you believe that you are involved in a scam, you should report it to the FTC. You should also report the person’s profile to the site you met them on.
Written by Robert Siciliano, CEO of Credit Parent, Head of Training & Security Awareness Expert at Protect Now, #1 Best Selling Amazon author, Media Personality & Architect of CSI Protection Certification.