Romance Scams: How They Often Scam People and How to Avoid It

March 9, 2022

The type of fraud that generates the most costs and that affects people 60 years of age or older is that of online dating scams, also known as romance scams. According to a report by the US Federal Trade Commission, this population reported losing nearly $84 million to online dating scams in 2019, leaving other types of common scams behind. Since then, with the COVID-19 pandemic, online dating has skyrocketed in popularity among people of all ages.

In fact, older people, often alone, are at particular risk, not least because older generations are often trusting people by nature and may not be aware of the potential cheating that often takes place on dating platforms. online as well as social networks, applications, etc. Therefore, below we review what are some of the typical signs that indicate that we are facing a possible romantic scam and how younger people can help older relatives to learn to detect these warning signs. But make no mistake, these red flags can also be of great use to younger generations.

You look too good to be true!

The most enterprising fraudsters will try various well-known tricks to try to steal your savings or even trick you into unintentionally joining money laundering rings.

When it comes to online dating platforms, photos play a key role in the user experience, meaning that the first thing a user looking for romance sees is a photo of a potential partner.

To trick older people looking for a new adventure, scammers often use images of models or steal photos from other people's social media profiles.

Fortunately, in case the potential victim feels something is wrong, they have the ability to perform a reverse search using Google Images, which should reveal whether the photo is fake or stolen.

Move the conversation to a more personal place?

Most of the well-known online dating platforms have systems in place to spot scammers, so to avoid triggering these security measures, criminals try to move the conversation away from the confines of the dating platform from the start. Such scammers will try to convince the other person to write down their phone number, email address, or social media username so that they can communicate with them in a more personal way.

While switching to another service may seem normal, doing so after a few messages should set off internal alarms. Also, sharing that kind of personal information with a virtual stranger is not recommended.

Can we reschedule our meeting?

Usually, the successful culmination of a relationship that begins online is the face-to-face meeting. However, in the case of romance scammers who often pose as someone else, meeting the victim in person would expose her true identity and jeopardize her chances of financial gain. That's why these scammers often pose as trustworthy professionals who have to travel frequently for work. They often take on the guise of military personnel, diplomats, or sales representatives because repeated excuses like “I'm being sent to a new base” or “I have to fly to a conference” won't come across as suspicious.

Canceling plans from time to time is normal; however, if a suitor gives her the thumbs down at every attempt to arrange a meeting, his family member should immediately become suspicious and question the reasons for the constant refusals.

Hello! Love you!

Something that should catch your family member's attention is when a new suitor online very quickly expresses their deep feelings towards him. Saying "I love you" after a few days of conversation or calling your family member his soulmate should set off alarm bells.

The reason scammers move so fast is because they want to make you feel loved with words of affection. Once they've charmed them with their sweet words and proclamations, they can move on to their ultimate target: wallets and bank accounts.

I have a problem! You can help?

Once the scammer thinks they have talked to their victim long enough and have established a strong enough relationship, they will move on to asking for money or even favors. The first requests will usually be for something small, like paying the vet bill for your sick animal or buying some medicine. If that works, they will start raising the bar by asking for larger sums of money to get out of trouble or to help a family member who is supposedly in dire need.

These aren't just hypothetical scenarios: A 55-year-old California woman was duped into laundering nearly $200,000 that the alleged new couple she met online earned from various illicit activities. Another woman was cheated out of her life savings of over $55,000. And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Just look at the long list of comments left by users telling their stories in this article about online dating scams.

Can I protect myself?

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely limited the options for people looking for a relationship or companionship, causing many to rely on online dating platforms. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it does carry certain risks; therefore, it is wise to begin these virtual contacts with a healthy dose of caution and suspicion. If an older member of your family has embarked on a romantic relationship online and you suspect that she may be the victim of a romance scam, there are several signs that can give it away:

  • They don't want to talk about their online romance and make excuses to justify why they haven't met their "partner" yet or even had a video call with them.
  • They may show a strong attachment to someone they have recently met on the Internet.
  • They may get defensive or even agitated if you ask too many questions about their new virtual partner that they don't know how to answer.
  • They implied that they sent money to a person they had not met.

If any of these points match what a family member or friend is describing, you should probably have a heart-to-heart with them about what's going on. Romance scams represent a form of crime that is rarely reported, as many victims tend to feel ashamed of being cheated on. If you sense something is wrong and decide to talk about it, you will likely save your loved ones a great deal of money and help them avoid further disappointment.

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