Love can make you do just about anything – even wire thousands of dollars to someone you’ve never met — which can result in an empty bank account and a broken heart. Our BetterCredit team has read dozens of stories: a woman who repeatedly wired $30,000 to her online sweetheart, thinking he would eventually pay her back; a man who lost $500,000 to a man from an online dating site; a woman who filed for bankruptcy after she was left with $98,000 in debt. All fell victim to an online romance scam.
According to the Better Business Bureau, an estimated 82,000 U.S. consumers who have used dating sites in the past three years have been scammed by an online romance. These same scammers are trolling Facebook and dating sites, looking for victims. They often claim to be in the military or working overseas to explain why they are unable to meet in person.
How it works
Romance scams typically start with stolen credit cards to build fake profiles. Scammers will steal photos and text from real accounts and build fake relationships with victims as they exchange photos and romantic messages. Just as the relationship progresses, your romantic interest has a sudden emergency or health issue and makes a monetary request. Once the money is transferred, the requests keep coming until the scammer ceases communication.
Tips to spot an online romance scam
Too perfect. Gorgeous profile photos and financial success stories. If they seem too good to be true, think again before proceeding.
In a hurry. Scammers want to leave the site as soon as possible and communicate via email, text or phone.
Taking it to the next level. This person talks about your future together and are quick to say “I love you” and “I’ve never felt this way before.”
Manipulation. Romance scammers will manipulate you by telling you how important trust is, which often happens before making their first request for money.
Unavailable to meet. If your sweetheart always has an excuse for why they can’t meet, this is cause for concern, especially if their excuse is that they are traveling, in the military or live abroad.
Confusing language. Scammers often use poor spelling and grammar and phrases that don’t make sense.
Sob stories. Before asking for money, the scammer will talk about being down on their luck financially. They will cite everything from home issues to a family death as the reason.
Click here to read a set of scripts provided by the Better Business Bureau that were used in actual romance frauds.
Protect yourself from a romance scam
The FBI offers the following tips to help avoid falling victim to an online romance scam.
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
- Go slow and ask lots of questions.
- Use caution if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or Facebook to go “offline.”
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Pay attention if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.
Suspect an online relationship is a scam? Stop all contact immediately. If you are the victim of a romance scam, you can file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
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