Romance scams are the most successful type of all online scams. The reason is because romance scammers have mastered the art of using human nature against the victims. Human nature tells us that when you love someone, you can trust them. Human nature tells us to treat other people the way we want to be treated. Human nature tells us that when someone is in trouble, we should help. Realizing this, scammers have created the ultimate scam that has claimed millions of victims worldwide who have lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Why the success? Because scammers know that “love is blind”.
Being educated about how romance scams work definitely helps in being able to register red flags when you unsuspectedly start communicating with a scammer. What you do with those red flags will determine on whether the scam succeeds or not. Some people allow the scam to play out longer than they should because they enjoy the attention and the idea of being “in love” with the persona created for the scam. The further you allow yourself to go without stopping it, the harder it is to “get out”. At the first sign of a red flag, immediately cease all communication with the person and report them as a suspected scammer to the online dating service you are using.
Below is a list of romance scam red flags. Keep in mind that a person exhibiting just one or two of these signs is possibly a scammer.
Romance Scam Red Flags (remember, these vary so use common sense too)
- The person claims to be in the military/army/navy or a traveling businessperson.
- The person wants to start communicating via email (versus through the online dating service) fairly quickly.
- The person has an interesting “back story” that they share with you in the first couple of emails.
- The person will profess their love for you even though you have never met.
- The person has bad grammar in their emails to you.
- The person has bad sentence structure (Forget spaces after period.For example, like I just showed you).
- The person has an accent, on the phone, that doesn’t sound right when compared to the photo or where they said they are from.
- The person claims to live in the same country as you (sometimes the same state), but is out on business.
- The person’s profile “disappears” from the online dating service. Once scammers have been detected by a service, their profile is removed. That’s why they act quickly to get you to communicate via email.
- The person… (see Scam Variations below).
Romance Scam Variations
There are many variations of the romance scams, which increases the importance of always keeping your guard up and being alert. Ultimately, all romance scams have one thing in common – the scammer will, at some point, ask you for money. Below is a list of known variations of the romance scam. Remember, just because it’s not on this list doesn’t make it a scam.
- Person is out of country on business.
- Person has had really bad luck that they openly share (death in family, loss of job, going through really tough time) to gain instant pity.
- Person appeals to your Christian instincts for help by professing to be godly himself/herself.
- Person needs to transfer money through your bank account.
- Person needs you to deposit money orders (or checks) and wire them money.
- Person needs money from you for an “emergency”. Such emergencies may include (but are not limited to) being robbed, kidnapped, detained at airport, charged an unexpected “fee”, etc.
- Person has “laptop” or “phone” stolen and needs to send them a replacement (or money to replace it).
- Person is rich then, while travelling, gets “kidnapped” in Nigeria and held for ransom.
- Person wants to build project in/near your area/state/province and needs to channel money through you for this to happen. As transfers “take place” you are contacted to pay “transfer fees” by banks you don’t know are fake.
- Person really wants to see you but needs money for the plane trip.
- Person really wants to see you in person, but something bad happens as they are boarding (or transferring in another city) causing them to be “detained” and you to have to pay a fee for their release. Most scammers like to use the detained story during a transfer as it places the person “alone” and “not knowing anyone” in a “strange city” and all they want to do is finish the trip to get to you. You are their only hope.
- Person or “son” or “daughter” had been in a car crash.
- Person or “son” or “daughter” has been diagnosed with cancer and needs treatment.
The Scam Beyond the Scam
If you’ve given money to a scammer, figure it out, then call them out on it, believe it or not the scam sometimes doesn’t end there! There are several ways the scammer may respond:
- The scammer admits to the scam, but says that he/she truly fell in love with you during the scam and they truly want to be with you. Once they get you sucked back in, they are more careful about how and when to ask you for money – but ultimately they will.
- The scammer threatens to send any photos and emails you exchanged to people that you work with. Any personal information you shared in email or on the phone they will use against you to try and bribe you out of more money. They will demand a “payoff” to not send the info. The thing is that even if you pay they will only continue to demand more.
- By telling you to “go ahead and contact the authorities” (if you threaten it). He tells you only local authorities have jurisdiction so you’re out of luck. Why would the scammer say this? Because he/she wants you to do a search for the police in their area because many of the police Websites are fake and used to scam you out of even more money! Never contact overseas “authorities”. Hand the case over to your local or federal authorities to investigate.
The Singapore Incident
Just over a year ago, the Singapore TV show CrimeWatch did a very in-depth story and recreation of a woman in Singapore who fell victim to a romance scam. This is an excellent program that really shows how some of these scams develop over time. Keep two things in mind with this story:
1) The guy communicated for an entire year before executing the scam.
2) The woman kept giving more money with the belief that it was the only way she could get her money back (sort-of like a gambler’s syndrome).
It’s important to keep in mind the three things romance scams virtually always have in common. First, the person will try to rush you off a dating service to communicate via email. Second, the person will have excuses for not meeting in person. Third, at some point the person will ask you for money or products or to do some elaborate transfer. Remember, romance scammers will go to great lengths to scam you even if it means talking on the phone, sending you flowers, or sending you gifts.
The second you suspect you may be communicating with a scammer, you need to cease all communications. Ignore all emails and block any phone calls from the scammer. Don’t give them any avenue or means to contact you. They want you to continue engaging them because they know as long as they can keep you engaged, there is still a chance they can get money out of you. If you have to, change your email address, phone number, etc. Be sure to alert the online dating service about the scammer (including a link to their profile).
If you do get scammed, be sure to file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Be sure to share your experience below in our Comments section as well.