Online dating can be exciting. It gives you the opportunity to meet potential friends and love interests from anywhere around the country, and even the world. Online dating increases the likelihood of a dating scam. In addition, dating apps and social media platforms make it easier for scammers to find and target unsuspecting individuals.
In 2021, dating and romance scams reported to the FTC were up almost 80 percent compared to 2020. The FTC data also shows the total reported losses over the past five years has now reached $1.3 billion. Unfortunately, as scammers come up with more sophisticated schemes these numbers will continue to climb.
What Does a Dating Scam Look Like?
While online dating scams come in many different forms, many of these scammers use similar strategies to target unsuspecting individuals looking for love. Watch for these common tactics that may indicate you are talking to a scammer:
Their photos are attractive but believable. These photos are typically selfies or solo, posed pictures. The pictures they send often show them in uniform for the profession that they claim to have such as a soldier, doctor, oil rig worker or construction worker.
They don’t have a ‘normal’ social media presence. By “not normal” we mean their profile has few or no friends, lacks photos with others, includes only the same few pictures they already sent you and has little to no detail about their life. Also look out for multiple profiles with multiple names using the same photos or profiles that appear and disappear numerous times.
They immediately have a lot in common with you. Before you have a chance to get to know each other they attempt to demonstrate that you have shared interests. The similarities may directly line up with topics you’ve included in your online profile, such as:
- Identifying with your divorce, widow status or loss of a loved one
- Being a single parent and having a child that needs a mother/father
- Declaring the same interests, hobbies and values
- Claiming to follow the same religion as you and using references to God, prayer and Bible verses
What Does a Dating Scam Sound Like?
Sometimes, even against our better judgment, we may overlook some of the common red flags listed above. However, as the relationship moves on, you should listen for these common tactics that may indicate your online love interest is actually a scammer:
They call, text and email daily to check in to establish trust. Pay attention to their tone, accent and grammatical errors, and take note if it feels like you are talking to multiple people. Take note of what they’re saying and if it matches what is on their profile. They often use intense flattery and constant compliments, also known as love bombing, and may even make future plans for marriage. You may notice that their declarations of love seem scripted.
They say they are from the US but are currently living out of the country, usually for their job. They may allege that they were born in another country, raised overseas or have dual citizenship. Common job descriptions include:
- Doctors Without Borders
- Oil rig workers
- Active military
- Deep sea fishing boat captains
- Construction workers
They ask for money, often in the form of gift cards, wire transfers or cryptocurrency, for many different reasons including medical emergencies, car repairs, debt, travel expenses or customs fees and may ask you to help take care of these emergencies so they can come visit you. Scammers may even claim that they will face violence or jail time if they can’t pay. Sometimes they’ll try to open a joint banking account, credit card or bitcoin wallet with you, asking you for financial information.
They request personal information, like your home address, Social Security number or bank account information. They claim it so they can send you a gift, but it turns out they are just trying to steal your identity.
Immediate Action Steps
If you think you may have been involved in an online dating scam, you should take immediate action to protect yourself and your financial wellbeing. Here are some steps to take if you think you have been scammed:
- Gather any information you can about the scammer, such as messages, emails, texts, pictures and profile screenshots.
- After you have collected screenshots of the scammer’s profile and messages, stop all contact with that individual and block their phone number, email address, dating accounts and social media accounts.
- File a police report with your local law enforcement agency. Many agencies have departments dedicated to cybercrime. They will also be able to refer you to other agencies who can provide assistance.
- If you provided financial information, like your credit card number or bank account information, contact your bank or credit card company right away. They can help change any compromised accounts or cancel recent transactions.
- If you provided personal information, like your Social Security number, you may be at risk for identity theft. Keep an eye on your credit report and financial accounts for any unusual activity, and consider placing a freeze on your credit.
- If you paid using gift cards or wire transfers, contact the issuer. They may be able to help you stop a recent transaction.
- Reach out to a friend, family member or counselor who can help you with the emotional difficulties.
- Report the incident to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The IC3 will review your report and refer it to the appropriate federal, state, local and international agencies if necessary.
An online dating scam can have a devastating impact on your financial, mental and emotional wellbeing. Remember, these scammers are sophisticated and cybercrime can happen to anyone.