Love comes to us in different forms. These days often at the click of a button or a swipe on a screen. While finding love online isn’t uncommon anymore, the possibility that the person at the other end is aiming for your wallet and not your heart cannot be ruled out. That’s why knowing how to outsmart a romance scammer becomes a necessity to protect yourself financially and emotionally.
Most people don’t even entertain this possibility when venturing into online dating, thinking that something so bizarre could never happen to them. That they’re too smart to fall for a con like that. Think again, because as per the US Federal Trade Commission, people reportedly lost over $547 million to romance scammers in the year 2021 alone. Dizzying to think about, isn’t it?
In light of these startling figures, it behooves you to arm yourself with the right information on the common romance scammer tactics as well as the best way to mess with a romance scammer. To make sure your quest to find love online doesn’t make you vulnerable to financial losses and emotional setbacks, let’s delve deeper into how you can spot the red flags and outsmart a romance scammer before they can swindle you.
How Can You Tell If Someone Is A Romance Scammer?
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To know how to outsmart a romance scammer, you need to know what romance scams are and how they operate. The MO of the people running these rackets is almost always the same. They scout for potential targets online – people who are alone, emotionally vulnerable, and financially stable. So, their target group typically includes divorcees, widows or widowers, and singles in their 50s or above.
These scammers create fake profiles on dating sites as well as social media platforms and scour for potential targets. The scammer, then, connects with the chosen target on a dating site or on social media, begins flirting early on in the interaction, and quickly steers things into romantic territory. Once they establish a rapport with their victim, they start fleecing them on one pretext or the other. Moving swiftly and confidently is part of the MO of those perpetuating romance scams.
Sharing her story with NBC News, Chicago area resident Joyce, who lost $200 million to a fraud posing as a romantic interest, said, “I can’t explain it. You’re just kind of brainwashed. They talk to you so lovingly that you can’t believe they’d scam you. It’s like you are walking around with blinders on.” You’re so enamored by WhatsApp scammer love messages and words of affection that doubting their intentions seems too wrong, too cynical.
As is apparent from Joyce’s words, these people are so good at what they do that their victims tend to overlook certain glaring red flags and fall into their trap. This begs the question: how can you tell if someone is a romance scammer? To safeguard yourself, you need to be attentive to these telltale signs of a romance scammer when venturing into the world of online dating:
1. They are attractive
A romance scammer will always have unrealistically attractive photos on their profile, be it on social media or a dating site. When they reach out to you, you’d likely be taken aback by the fact that such an attractive – and possibly successful – person would be interested in you. In short, they seem way out of your league and almost too good to be true – as if they’ve just walked out of the cover of a fashion magazine.
If these details bother you and leave you wondering why someone like them is interested in someone like me, don’t let it slide. Be mindful of the fact that if something appears too good to be true it almost always is.
2. They are far, far away from you
A person who’s in it to con you wouldn’t want to meet you in person and betray their real identity. That’s why one of the most common romance scammer tactics is that claim to be far, far away from you. In all likelihood, such a person will tell you they’re in a different country altogether. Some of the common decoys they use are:
- Working in an oil rig
- Practicing as a doctor with an international charitable organization
- Serving in the military and being deployed overseas
- A businessman who travels a lot for work
You see it’s the perfect cover to sell their story of being a US national spending extended periods abroad. Besides, it gives them the perfect excuse to ghost you as and when required. They do not want to be easily reachable to you in order to keep the mystery alive which is exactly what is going to keep a victim hooked!
The psychology of a romance scammer is rooted in breadcrumbing. They offer you small doses of love and adulation, knowing exactly when to withdraw, to keep you pining for them when they snap contact intermittently. This makes it easier for them to have you in their thrall and get you to do exactly what they want.
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3. Their story sounds like a soap opera plot
This insanely attractive person with an awe-inspiring job will also most likely have an equally dramatic back story. If you pay attention, their life story sounds more like a soap opera plot than anything close to reality. Perhaps, they’d say they lost their child to cancer, and then, decided to go to medical school and help underprivileged children across the world.
That’s why they chose to work with Doctors Without Borders in Syria or Sudan rather than draw a hefty paycheck in the US. Sounds impressive right? Think harder, and you will be able to find a near-identical plot in Grey’s Anatomy perhaps or The Resident. The best way to mess with a scammer who is taking you for a fool is to prod them about the little details of their life.
With the right questions to ask a romance scammer, you can make their carefully crafted story fall apart like a house of cards. So, go ahead and ask them,
- How old was the child?
- What kind of cancer were they suffering from?
- How long were they in treatment and where?
- Which medical school did they attend? In which year?
4. They have a way with words
Another classic trait of a romance scammer is that they have a way with words and try to win you over with overtly romantic gestures. WhatsApp scammer love messages are often emotionally charged. They may send you romantic poems or write long notes about how much you mean to them. They will tell you they feel a strong connection with you and profess their love to you.
The progression of the romantic relationship may leave you feeling ill at ease because, on some level, you realize that this is not how people normally converse. If you run a simple Google search of the content of their messages to you, you may find that these are lifted from some obscure novels, poetry books, or quotes available on the internet.
5. You’ve never met them in person
One of the clearest warning signs that you’re getting scammed online is that you’ve never met the person you’re supposedly in a romantic relationship with. They may make plans to meet you, tell you how much they want to introduce you to their family, or have lunch with yours, but always cancel on you at the last minute. Isn’t that odd?
There is always an emergency, a crisis, a pressing work commitment that takes precedence over your date. They apologize profusely, make you believe that they’re just as shattered about not being able to meet you, and promise to make it up to you. Except that they never do.
6. They make the first move
A romance scammer will always be the one to make the first move. They will slide into your DMs on social media or express interest in your profile on a dating site or app. And will build upon that initial connection quickly. Statements like “I saw you and felt there was something special about you” or “I felt instantly drawn to you just by looking at your photo” are thrown around in abundance.
The idea is to make you believe that this connection, no matter how implausible it seems, was meant to be. We circle back to our point about the whole thing seeming “too good to be true”. If it feels that way, it probably is. Never lose sight of this fact.
7. They fall in love with you quickly
Have you ever fallen in love with a person you haven’t even met? Has anyone else ever fallen in love with you by just interacting with you over the phone or text? Do you know of people who started making wedding plans after being in a purely online relationship with someone? And actually, went ahead and got married? No?
This should be your biggest clue to spot or catch a romance scammer and stop them in their tracks. They will, inevitably, profess their undying love for you after just days or weeks of interaction. And go above and beyond to make you believe it and reciprocate. Pause and reflect if you’re falling in love too fast.
8. They want to communicate over email or text
If you’ve connected over a dating platform, a romance scammer would want to move things to a more personal communication channel as soon as possible. They may ask for your email or phone number after just a couple of days. That’s because interactions on dating sites and apps are monitored, and they don’t want to risk getting caught.
Likewise, if they reached out to you on social media, they may display a similar urgency. They want to strike a personal connection with you before the possibility of their profile being flagged or reported as fake comes to pass. You can safeguard yourself against a romance scammer’s sinister moves by simply insisting on taking things forward at a pace you’re comfortable with. Don’t do anything you don’t want out of pressure or a sense of obligation. This can help protect you not just from romance scammers but also from myriad other dangers of online dating.
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9. But may shy away from video or voice calls
Another one of the common romance scammer tactics is that they may be available to text you back and forth throughout the day but will squirm at the prospect of making voice or video calls. Especially the latter. That’s because they want to protect their real identity at all costs.
Besides, if you see that the person on the other end of the line is completely different from the person in the online profile, you may cut all ties with them. And all their hard work will have been in vain then. When the person you’re supposedly dating wants to carry out the entire relationship through texts and emails, it’s time to prod them.
“Why do you avoid getting on a video call with me?” “Why do I get a sense that you don’t want me to see you?” “Why did you cancel yet another FaceTime date night?” These are some of the effective questions to ask a romance scammer to make them squirm and possibly leave you alone.
10. Email doesn’t match their name
One of the significant signs of a romance scammer is that their email seldom matches the name they have given you. It can be a generic name like ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ or have an altogether different name. Take it as a sign that they’re using a fake ID or a burner phone to keep their conversations with you going. Should it come to that, you’d never be able to trace either.
This is a trademark of online romance scams, and you should treat it as a warning sign that someone is out to fool you. So, the next time there is a voice inside your head telling you that something doesn’t add up about a potential romantic interest you met online, don’t dismiss it. Pay attention to your intuition and it might just save you from being scammed under the pretext of love.
11. They inevitably ask for money
If the person you’re interacting with is, in fact, a romance scammer they will inevitably ask for your help. A medical emergency or sudden medical expenses, a frozen bank account, a misplaced credit card – their reasons seem legitimate and urgent enough to make you want to help out this person you’ve started to develop feelings for.
Among the romance scammer tactics is to always get their victim emotionally invested before making their ultimate move. After all, they’re dating you just for money. The best way to mess with a romance scammer and protect yourself is to never rush to their aid no matter how urgent they make it out to be. Do your due diligence and always rope in a trusted friend or ally before signing off on any financial requests.
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How To Outsmart A Romance Scammer?
Even if you know all the warning signs of dating scams and understand the psychology of a romance scammer, it is vital to not get complacent. If the story of Simon Leviev, aka The Tinder Swindler, who duped several women across Europe of over $10 million, tells us anything, it is that dating scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Being aware of their MO is the best way to mess with a scammer and safeguard yourself. As FBI’s veteran financial fraud investigator Special Agent Christine Beining says, “This is a very difficult crime to prove. When someone is using a computer to hide behind, the hardest thing to find out is who they are. We can find out where in the world their computer is being used. It’s identifying who they actually are that’s the hard part. That is why this individual remains a fugitive.”
As you can see, it can be near-impossible to detect romance scams in a majority of cases. Your best bet is to steer clear of this trap in the first place. If you’re approached by one or end up interacting with one, here is how to outsmart a romance scammer and cut your losses:
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1. Be cautious about sharing personal information
When creating a dating profile, be extremely cautious about what you share. Being aware of the threats faced in online dating and the virtual world, in general, can help you tread cautiously. Addresses, pictures of assets such as a swanky home or sprawling estate, and details of lavish holidays can draw scammers like a moth to a fire.
Likewise, it is equally important to be cautious about what you share on social media. Even if you want to share details of your life on your social media profiles, make sure you have all the security protocols in place to ensure that only your friends or connections can access them. Not falling on the radar of those looking to fleece people in the name of love is simply the easiest answer to how to outsmart a romance scammer.
2. Check their images
In case a person who reaches out to you seems unrealistically attractive, run a reverse image search on their profile photo on Google. This will help you find out whether the same picture has been used on other sites or has been stolen from someone else’s account. Or if it has been photoshopped by using features from different photos.
Doing your own research really, really well is crucial for reporting a scammer to the authorities before they’ve caused you any damage. If you don’t know how, ask someone for help. Don’t let the fear of being judged put you at risk of being fleeced by a fraud.
3. Scan their profile for loopholes
How to outsmart a scammer? Before you get lured into a relationship based on a person’s profile, go over it with a fine-tooth comb. For instance, if you’re on social media,
- Check if the profile seems too recent
- Are there very few posts and those too extremely generic?
- Do you see any pictures with friends or family? If not, then it’s probably a fake profile
On a dating app, look at the kind of information they’ve shared about themselves.
- Does it sound too generic or sketchy? Or too perfect?
- Does it check all the boxes of your criteria for the person you’d like to date?
In both cases, there is a good chance that the profile is fake. Perhaps, even created with the sole purpose of targeting you. Attention to detail is a key component of figuring out how to scam a romance scammer and save yourself from the struggle of coping with financial loss and a broken heart.
4. Look out for inconsistencies in their communication
To catch a romance scammer, look for inconsistencies in their communication with you. If this person is part of a syndicate and not operating alone, chances are different people may be handling the account being used to communicate with you. This will reflect in the way they write.
You may notice differences in style of writing, spelling, sentence formation, use of abbreviations, punctuation, and so on. Yes, it takes a great eye for detail to be able to spot these. But once you do, it can be your key to reporting a scammer. You can point out these inconsistencies to them and see how they react. The best way to mess with a romance scammer is to catch them in a lie and then ask them to explain themselves.
5. Take things slow
A romance scammer will inevitably move forward at dizzying speeds. They’d go from connecting with you to professing their love to you in a matter of days or weeks. This is because they want to strip you of your money before you can make sense of what’s happening. And then, move on to their next target.
Whenever you start a new relationship or start dating someone online, insist on taking things slow. If the other person is not ready to match your pace, don’t be afraid to move on. This is the best way to outsmart a romance scammer and save yourself from a fake relationship.
6. Don’t share financial details/passwords
No matter what you do, do not share your financial details such as your bank account number, online banking password, or credit card numbers with someone you haven’t met in person. This kind of information can not just be used to swindle money off you but also to commit identity theft, which can land you in far greater trouble.
No matter how much they say they love you or you feel that you love and trust them and no matter how pressing or life-threatening an emergency they claim to be in, don’t part with financial information or even other important personal details such as social security number or insurance policies. They shouldn’t be asking you to share financial information with you, to begin with. The fact that they are should be enough to raise a red flag in your mind.
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7. Talk to someone you trust
How to outsmart a romance scammer when you find yourself enamored with them? Or are confused about how real this relationship is? Well, getting a third party’s opinion is always the smart way to gain perspective on such tricky situations. Don’t hesitate or feel ashamed of sharing with a trusted friend, family member, or confidante the fact that you’ve met someone online and now suspect their motives.
Share every minute detail with this person you’re turning to for counsel and heed their advice. Don’t let questions like can a scammer fall in love with his victim or her victim color your judgment at this point. You’re grasping at straws if you’re hopelessly hoping that the person out to scam you will have a change of heart and fall in love with you. Don’t even go there.
8. If it doesn’t feel right, trust your instinct
Explaining how online romance scams operate, John Breyault of Fraud.org says, “Love is a very powerful emotion and scammers who latch on to that can ruin your life.” They build trust and make you believe that you’ve found a rare connection that is meant to last. Since they’re the ones pulling the string, a relationship with a romance scammer is skewed in ways more than one. Unless you really sit back and think.
Take, for instance, the story of Ellen Floren reported by the New York Times. Her romance scammer, who introduced himself as James Gibson, showed up for a date with Ellen, a tad too late and only to inform her that he had to leave for Europe on an urgent work-related assignment. Later, he called her and asked if she could buy him a $100 Netflix card, as his had expired and he could really use it to watch movies during the flight. Three days later, he called again, sounding hysterical, claiming he had misplaced a bag of expensive tools costing $4,000 and needed $2,600 to buy a near-identical replacement.
He asked Ellen if she could send him the money as a loan. She smelled a rat. Why would an international traveler not have the means – using his travel credit card or asking his employers for help, for instance – to foot the bill? When he called again, Ellen gave him a piece of her mind and told him in no uncertain words that she knew he was scamming her. She got away with losing just $100. So, if your gut tells you something’s off about the person you’re dating, don’t silence that voice. Or turn a blind eye to obvious red flags because you are too scared to be alone again. If you’ve fallen victim to a romance scammer, heartbreak is inevitable. At least, by being vigilant, you can protect yourself from financial loss.
9. Insist on face-to-face/in-person interactions
The answer to how to catch a romance scammer before they have a chance to take advantage of you can be as simple as insisting on face-to-face and in-person interactions. When you start dating someone online and the relationship is purely virtual, plan video calls and FaceTime dates. If the person you’re involved with is genuine, they will be more than willing to participate. If not, it’s a red flag that something is amiss.
Likewise, before taking things forward with someone you met online, insist that you meet in person. Make this non-negotiable in your approach to online dating and do not budge no matter how much someone persuades you with their grand gestures and lofty promises.
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10. Ask them a lot of follow up questions
Want to know how to scam a romance scammer? Well, the key is to trap them in their own web of lies and beat them at this game of cat-and-mouse chase they think they have perfected. For this, you need to first be on the lookout for any red flags such as,
- There are too many inconsistencies in their stories
- Reluctance to answer any follow-up questions you may have about their life
- Avoiding situations where you end up coming face-to-face, be it in real life or virtually
Once a pattern begins to emerge, start asking them questions about their life, their routine, their past, and their future plans. Make a note of their responses, and then revisit the same questions after some days. If their responses change every time, it’s a telltale sign that they’re not who they claim to be – and that’s the answer to how to catch a romance scammer. Besides, all these inquiries may make them sense that you’re onto them and they may well abandon the idea of scamming you.
11. Don’t send money
If a person, who claims to love you but hasn’t found the time to meet you or be with you, asks you for money, there is no doubt that they are after your money. So, make it a point to never send money to a ‘lover’ or ‘partner’ who is practically still a stranger to you. Not on an impulse anyway.
Whenever such a request comes in, tell the person you’ll see what you can do. That is if you don’t want to start accusing them of scamming you straight away or want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Then, talk to your family, financial advisor, lawyer, or friends. Mull over the situation a little, and see if it still sounds as realistic and convincing as it did at first. Chances are, it won’t. Once you’re sure that you are being trapped by a romance scammer, you can file a complaint with the FTC.
- Falling prey to a romance scams is a very risk of online dating, don’t dismiss it thinking you’re too smart to fall for a con like this
- If the person you’ve connected with online seems too good to be true, is so far away that meeting them is not an option, and wants to take the relationship forward at an extremely fast pace you’re not comfortable with, there is a good chance you’re being scammed
- Being aware of the warning signs and not ignoring the red flags staring you in the face can save you a world of heartache as well as financial losses
- Whenever you connect with someone new, do your due diligence, ask a lot of questions, insist on meeting them in person, and never agree to send money or share access to your bank accounts no matter how pressing an emergency they make it out to be
Being a victim of romance fraud, irrespective of whether the perpetrator succeeded in conning you or you were able to outsmart a romance scammer, can be an emotionally scarring experience. It can shake your faith in the idea of love and may even put you off dating for a long time. If the blow of a being conned in the name of love has done you serious damage, do not hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional. A skilled counselor or therapist can help you make sense of your feelings of guilt and shame, and help you take the first step toward healing and moving on. If you’re looking for help, skilled and licensed counselors on Bonobology’s panel are here for you.
No, if someone is out to scam you, they will steer clear of video calls at all costs. They may do so because they may be hiding behind a fake identity. If you get to see the real person you’re interacting with, their entire con falls flat. Besides, video calls offer you a sneak peek into their life. What if they said they’re in the military and stationed in Afghanistan but are operating from a dingy basement in your city itself? A single call can unravel it all.
If you’re talking to a scammer, first and foremost, they will seem too eager to take the relationship with you forward. A scammer will be almost aggressive in their expressions of love and do everything in their power to make you feel the same way too. Once you take the bait, they’d swoop in with demands for money. In short, a prospective partner, who seems too good to be true, is available virtually but always comes up with excuses to not meet you, is a likely scammer. Rest assured, they will ask you to bail them out from a dire financial mess at some point.
These romance scams are typically run by syndicates that operate out of different cities in the world. Often, multiple people ‘handle the account’ of a potential victim. For them, it’s a business and their approach is absolutely clinical. The chances that a scammer falls in love with his or her victim are abysmally low. Unless, perhaps, this person is operating alone and trying to pull off a one-time con to get out of genuine financial distress. But again, the odds of that happening are next to none.