Online Dating Romance Scams – How They Work

Romance scammers successfully drain hundreds of millions of dollars a year from their victims. They have turned the romance scam into an art form that targets one of the biggest vulnerabilities in humans – love and the desire to help others.  The romance scam has been crafted so well that even those who are not normally susceptible to scams fall prey to this one.

How Romance Scams Work
First, the scammer puts up a profile on an online dating service. Some are interesting and compelling and others “down to earth”.  The profile includes pictures that have been stolen from the Web, but you don’t know that. The scammer usually poses as either someone serving in the military or a successful businessperson. Both give the scammer a “good excuse” for not being “home” (which likely will be in “your city” or a nearby one).  While the scammer is likely to be the one to contact you, you may unknowingly initiate contact with him/her after reading the online dating profile.

The first email sent by a scammer to you will be informative, compelling, and tell an interesting story that makes you want to hear more. The scammer will compliment you and express a desire to communicate more with you. At some point, in your early online communications, the scammer will try to get you to move to email.

Through email, and sometimes phone conversations, the scammer works on getting you to fall in love with him/her, without having ever met! The whole scam is based on the pretense that you believe the persona the person has presented. Once you buy into that pretense, the scam becomes easy to continue.

Once a scammer can get a foot in the door, the scam becomes easy to pull off. As long as you believe the person is who they say they are then you have no reason to doubt what they say. And that’s the key to the scam being a success. A lot of time and effort is put into “perfecting the lie” in order to keep you believing in the persona that the scammer has invented.

The scammer is willing to spend weeks – and sometimes even months – cultivating the “relationship” with you. The actual money part of the scam isn’t revealed until the scammer knows that you are in love with him/her. Only then will the scammer create a fake emergency that causes you to want to immediately help in any way you can. The scammer puts himself/herself in a “helpless” position and because you love him/her, you want to do anything you can to help. The thought of it being a scam never crosses your mind at this point, because love is blind.

Romance Scam Variations
There are variations to the scam. For example, some scammers will never pretend to live in your country and will continue fostering a relationship with you (for months) and never ask for money until you suggest they fly out to see you. At that point, they’ll ask for money to book the trip (usually around $1,500) or direct you to a fake airline site to book the trip for them. Either way, they get your money and you never see the person. Alternatively they may say that they were boarding when they were detained for some reason and they’re alone and scared (because they just want to get to you) and they can’t be released from detainment until a fine is paid.

Another variation is the person is having trouble cashing a money order. So he/she wants to send it to you, have you deposit it in your bank, then withdraw money and wire it to him/her. Remember, this is usually done after they’ve gotten you to fall in love with them, so that the story is easy to believe. You get the money order, deposit it, take out the cash and wire it to the person. A few days later the bank calls you to tell you the money order was either fake or altered and you must pay it.

Scammers will continue to leach your finances until they are convinced you have no more to give. Then you’ll never hear from them again. The sad thing is that tens of thousands of people have fallen victim to online romance scams. We’ll take a look at those victims in part two of this three part series…

Part 2: Romance Scam Victims
Part 3: How to Avoid Falling Prey to Romance Scams

This article was created as part of Online Dating Safety Awareness Month, which takes place every February. Online Dating Safety Awareness Month was launched by Online Dating Magazine in 2011 to help educate online daters about protecting their heart and wallet when using online dating services.


  1. Cody on March 21, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    I think its great that your making people aware of these scammers. People need to be very careful who they get involved with, especially on the “free” dating sites. There are many fake profiles of scammers who will try to take your money. Using reputable, paid, dating sites is a way to filter out most of these people. Most scammers are not willing to pay for a membership to an online dating site.

  2. internationaldater on March 31, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Hey just wanted to mention a quick tip. If a picture has been stolen from the web you can do an search in Google on that particular image and it will try to find matching images on the web. So basically if you get results you can be pretty sure that online dating profile is fake.

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