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 your heart cannot be ruled. That’s why knowing how to outsmart a romance scammer becomes a necessity to protect yourself financially and emotionally.
When it comes to falling prey to scammers who pose as prospective love interests to leech money off someone, most people think that something so bizarre could never happen to them. That they’re too smart to fall for a con like. Think again, because as per the US Federal Trade Commission, people reportedly over $200 million to romance scammer in the year 2019 alone. Dizzying to think about isn’t it?
Let’s delver 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?
To know how to outsmart a romance scammer, you need to know who a romance scammer is and how do they operate. Their MO 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 are quick to make a move once they spot a viable target. This is how most romance scammer stories start.
The relationship starts as a romantic one and once they have established a certain rapport with their victim, they start fleecing them on one pretext or the other. Even if the signs of a romance scammer are apparent, the concerned person is so enamored by them that they end up doing as they’re told. Sometimes, despite a voice inside their head telling them that something doesn’t add up.
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While sharing her story with NBC News, Chicago area resident, Joyce, who lost $200 million to a scamster, says of romance scammer tactics: “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.”
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. But the question remains: how can you tell if someone is a romance scammer? To safeguard yourself from such a risk, keep an eye out for these tell-tale signs of a romance scammer:
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.
If that thought crosses your mind when a stranger makes a move on you online, don’t let it slide. Be mindful of the fact that too good to be true is almost always unreal. Look out for any other red flags, and take a step back, if you see all the clear signs of a romance scammer in the person.
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. Working in an oil rig, practicing as a doctor with an international charitable organization, serving in the military and deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq – these are the common decoys they use.
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!
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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 about their life. Like how old was the child, what kind of cancer, how long was the battle, which medical school they attended, in which year.
Chances are they’ll begin to fumble and try to change the topic. If you try hard enough, you may even begin to find loopholes and inconsistencies in their stories and identify their catfishing patterns and quickly realize that you might be getting scammed online.
4. They have a way with words
Another thing romance scammers have in common is a way with words. They will try to make a mark and win you over with overtly romantic gestures. And believe us, they’re amazing at it too. Sending emotionally charged poetry or prose on Whatsapp. Telling you they feel a strong connection with you already. Professing their love to you.
The thing about romance scammer stories is that they rope in a victim so well because of how real they make it all seem. Their psychological expertise is impeccable but not if you do your homework well too. If you run a simple Google search of the content of their messages to you, you will find that these are lifted from some obscure novels, poetry books, or quotes available on the internet.
5. They inevitably ask for help
If the person you’re interacting with is, in fact, a romance scammer they will inevitably ask for your help. A medical emergency, 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.
How Do You Know If Someone Is Scamming You?
What if the person scamming you has adopted a rather novel approach and is able to hide all the signs of a romance scammer? Then, how do you know if someone is scamming you? The AARP Fraud Watch Network’s Amy Nofziger explains it simply and clearly: “You’ve never met them, but you’ve seen a picture, you’ve had long conversations by text or on the phone. They say you’re the love of their life and so you trust them.”
Speaking of romance scammer tactics, John Breyault of Fraud.org says, “Love is a very powerful emotion and scammers who latch on to that can ruin your life.” This means that a relationship with a romance scammer is essentially skewed in ways more than one. First and foremost, your relationship is as virtual as it gets. Secondly, these fraudsters manage to earn your trust and make you fall in love with them nonetheless.
Based on these yardsticks, here’s how you can know if someone is scamming you:
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1. You’ve never met them in person
You may have been interacting with this person you’re supposedly in a relationship with but you’ve never met them. They don’t hesitate in making plans to meet you, introduce you to their family, or have lunch with yours. But always cancel on you at the last minute. Is that not 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, promise to make it up to you. Except that they never do and that is when you know you’re getting scammed online.
2. 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.
3. 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 romancing someone virtually? 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.
4. 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 and soon. 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.
Similarly, 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.
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5. 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.
6. 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 ‘[email protected]’ 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.
7. They ask you for money
Of course, the main aim of a romance scammer’s interactions with you is that they want to leech money off you. Even at the cost of leaving you in financial ruin. So, sooner or later, they will make their move and ask you for money. Like we said before, their reasons are almost always too convincing to not fall for.
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.
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How To Outsmart A Romance Scammer?
Speaking about this type of online fraud, 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 catch a romance scammer 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:
1. Be cautious about sharing personal information
Whether you’re creating a profile on a dating website or social media, 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, details of lavish holidays can draw scammers like a moth to a fire.
Even if you want to share these details 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 these. Better be safe than sorry!
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.
The way to reporting a scammer is by doing your own research really, really well. If you don’t know how, ask someone in your family for help. But with the internet, things are much easier. Don’t let the fear of being judged put you at risk of being fleeced by a fraud.
3. Scan their profile for loopholes
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.
On a dating profile, look at the kind of information they’ve shared about themselves. Does it sound too generic or sketchy? Or too perfect? Like it checks all the boxes of your criteria of 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.
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, spellings, sentence formation, use of abbreviations, punctuations, 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.
5. Take things slow
A romance scammer will inevitably move forward at dizzying speeds. They’d go from connecting with to professing their love to you in a matter of days or weeks. This 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 place, 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 or banking passwords with someone you haven’t met in person. 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.
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. Make an excuse or refuse downright, do whatever it takes but don’t exchange financial information with a stranger you’ve connected with on the internet.
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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 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.
8. 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, friends. Mull over the situation a little, and see if still sounds as realistic and convincing as it did at first. Chance 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.
No, one of the romance scammer tactics is to avoid 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 your 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, if 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.