We all deserve happiness and connection. Whether starting fresh after a breakup or coping with loneliness, many people turn to online dating sites and apps hoping to find a partner. While the internet has opened new avenues for people to connect, it has also enabled scammers to exploit those whose are vulnerable.

What Is a Romance Scam?

Romance scams are, unfortunately, common on dating sites and apps. The scammers create fake profiles, often using stolen photos, to build online relationships with victims. They may communicate for weeks or even months, with the goal of gaining the victim’s trust to access their personal information and their money.

Eventually, the scammer may confess they want to finally meet in person, but claim they cannot due to financial hardships or distant deployments with the military, for example. These stories are scams, meant to extract money by playing on the victim’s emotions. The scammer may ask for cash to buy a plane ticket or help with alleged hospital bills.

No matter the reason, their end goal is theft through manipulation of someone’s loneliness and desire for love.

The Prevalence of Romance Scams Amongst Adults

In 2022, victims lost a staggering $1.3 billion to romance scams.

Most people who have fallen for these scams are between the ages of 35-60. Ages 60 and up are the ones losing the most money, but younger adults are targeted the most.

Red Flags that Indicate You’re Talking to a Romance Scammer

They’re Love Bombing

When dealing with loneliness or heartbreak, you may find yourself more open to finding and meeting new love interests. Scammers carefully target vulnerable individuals on social media and dating platforms. Their tactics are calculated to exploit common emotional needs and attachments. Initially, they may do things such as “liking” all your pictures, or emphasizing shared interests during conversation. This is designed to make you feel connected and understood by this stranger.

As they continue engaging with strategic flattery and affection, you may quickly begin idealizing this mysterious person despite knowing little about them. The scam is dependent on eliciting an intense emotional bond before you have time to rationally evaluate the situation.

Once you have fallen for the fabricated persona, they can further manipulate that attachment for personal gain.

They Seem too Good to Be True

Scammers can often make themselves seem too good to be true, which is why the  victim may become enthralled by them. They can convince victims to let down their guard. As the connection intensifies, so does the scammer’s control and influence. Victims are essentially falling in love with a fictional character fabricated solely for exploitation, which is exactly what the scammer wants to happen.

They Have Vague Communication

As the relationship begins growing, the victim may start asking  the scammer questions, such as where they live, their schedule, things of that nature. The love scammer then begins dodging questions or turning the attention of the conversation back to the victim. But the biggest takeaway from this is knowing that the scammer is taking the attention off themselves to help avoid having to explain things in detail.

They’re Always Unavailable

Scammers often make themselves unavailable when victims try to meet in person. They may claim that work is too busy, they can’t get leave, they’re dealing with personal issues, or they’re too embarrassed to meet out of fear the victim may reject them.

At first, these excuses seem reasonable. However, if the victim tries to FaceTime or video chat for just a few minutes and the scammer still refuses with similar excuses, it can a red flag something is wrong. A genuine love interest would likely find a few minutes, even during busy times, to chat over video if they cared for the victim. Persistent unavailability can suggest the scammer is hiding something and avoiding ever meeting face-to-face.

They Have Financial Issues

Scammers often manufacture financial troubles to exploit their victims’ empathy. First, they build a connection and earn the victim’s trust over time, despite never meeting in person. Eventually, the scammer shares a sob story about losing their job, needing money for medical treatment, or not having enough funds to finally meet the victim. They ask the victim for help, hoping to take advantage of their feelings.

The scammer requests money through gift cards, wire transfers, electronic transfers, or checks. They come up with believable reasons why they need these forms instead of cash. A victim falling for the scam is just happy to help the person they care for get through a rough patch or meet at last.

But no matter the form, the money sent can end up funding more scamming operations rather than actually helping a person in need. The scammer often quickly disappears after receiving the funds. Their financial troubles were just a hook used early on to eventually extract money once the victim’s guard was down.

They Attempt to Isolate You

Scammers often attempt to isolate victims from concerned friends and family. When the victim explains the suspicious situation, their loved ones rightly warn them not to trust the scammer.

In response, the scammer tries to sow doubts about these friends and family. They say things like “they don’t understand our connection,” “they just want to come between us,” or “what we have is real love.”

This emotional manipulation isolates the victim further. It aims to undermine outside perspectives and keep the victim trapped in the scammer’s web of lies. The scammer wants the victim to rely only on their words so they can continue exploiting the victim’s trust and affection.

You Have a Gut Feeling

Scammers are experts at making victims feel like the most important person in their world. They shower praise and affection, making the victim feel treasured. But it’s critical to look past the sweet words at the actual relationship track record.

Healthy new relationships do not generally involve constant financial requests to deal with life’s ups and downs. So, if a supposed love interest has refused to video chat or meet in person but keeps having crises requiring money, it should raise alarms.

When something feels off in your gut, pay attention, even if the scammer’s words resonate emotionally. Do not let requests for money without reciprocal effort on their part drag on. Though painful, you should cut contact at the first signs of deception. Allowing it to continue may only enable the scammer to keep manipulating your longing for affection.

Bottom Line

Falling victim to romance scams can be devastating, both emotionally and financially. However, being aware of common tactics and warning signs can help you protect yourself and loved ones. Approach new online relationships with caution, watch for inconsistent stories and unavailable contacts, and resist requests for money. Should you suspect a scam, cut off contact immediately and alert the dating site or authorities.

If you end up providing personal information to a scammer, IdentityIQ identity theft protection services can help by alerting you in real-time when someone suspiciously uses your financial or identity information.