We recently interviewed Haywood Hunt & Associates Inc., a private investigation agency based in Toronto, to uncover the key indicators of romance scams. Here’s all you need to know about romance scams and six warning signs they’ve identified that every online dater should be aware of.
In recent years, the popularity of online dating has soared, providing a convenient avenue for individuals to find lasting love and romantic connections. Unfortunately, this widespread trend has also given scammers the opportunity to exploit unsuspecting individuals. Recent reports reveal a staggering $1.3 billion lost to romance scams in the past five years alone, with a record-breaking $547 million in 2021. This astronomical figure represents an 80% increase from the previous year and is six times higher than the reported losses in 2017. On average, victims of online investment and dating scams have been deprived of approximately $2,400.
The appeal of romance scams lies in scammers’ ability to artfully disguise their identities and intentions. They often create fake profiles using photos sourced from the internet or stolen from genuine individuals. Furthermore, scammers skillfully develop personalized personas by analyzing their targets’ online information, allowing them to pose as the perfect companions. These deceptive personas frequently incorporate excuses to avoid meeting in person, such as falsely claiming to be stationed abroad as military personnel or working on an offshore oil rig.
While romance scam victims are commonly targeted on dating apps, individuals who are not actively seeking romantic involvement have also fallen prey to these schemes through social media platforms. Surprisingly, around one-third of romance scam victims in 2021 were initially contacted through Instagram or Facebook.
Scammers employ various persuasive narratives to defraud their targets, often revolving around financial or health crises. These crises persist as long as the victims continue to provide financial support. Scammers may fabricate stories about sick family members or children, or pretend to be victims of scams themselves, seeking assistance. They may also gain the victim’s trust by expressing a need for help in accessing an inheritance from a foreign relative or requesting assistance in facilitating a lucrative business transaction. Unfortunately, many victims unknowingly become involved in money laundering schemes, believing they are simply offering assistance. They may also be deceived into sending their own funds, with these fictitious transfers often involving exorbitant fees. Naively, victims anticipate repayment in the future.
Another prevalent tactic in 2021 involved scammers enticing victims with fraudulent or nonexistent cryptocurrency investments. Victims were led to believe that their online acquaintances possessed extensive knowledge of cryptocurrencies or were successful investors. They were encouraged to invest significant amounts of their savings based on false advice. Eventually, the scammers would disappear, taking the invested funds with them, as the promised investments never materialized.
Recognizing Warning Signs of Romance Scammers in Your Online Match
- Geographical distance: Romance scammers often fabricate elaborate backgrounds to justify their inability to meet in person. They might claim to work on an oil rig, serve in the military overseas, be a doctor in an international organization, or engage in a construction project abroad. Pay attention to inconsistencies in their stories as they may be captivating but not entirely truthful.
- Profile that seems too good to be true: Authentic dating profiles typically feature multiple photos of the person in various situations, including full-body shots rather than just close-ups. They may also provide links to their Instagram or Facebook accounts. Conversely, a lack of details in a dating profile or an uncanny alignment of interests and hobbies with yours could indicate a fake profile.
- Rapid progression of the relationship: Scammers aim to establish trust quickly before their targets become suspicious. They employ tactics like expressing love at an unusually fast pace, prematurely proposing marriage, making promises of future meetings, or suggesting a shift in communication away from the dating site. Moving conversations to external platforms can compromise safety features offered by the dating site, and sharing personal contact information may complicate ending communication. Be cautious of warning signs such as generic messages, incoherent dialogue, poor grammar and spelling, or evasiveness when asked to video chat.
- Consistent broken promises to meet: Romance scammers strive to maintain their anonymity. To prevent you from questioning their identity, they may make plans to meet but frequently cancel at the last minute, providing elaborate excuses for their sudden inability to follow through.
- Solicitation of money: Exercise caution if someone you’ve met online asks for money, especially before meeting in person. Romance scammers may request funds for travel expenses such as plane tickets or visas, medical procedures, gambling debts, or supposed family/personal emergencies. They often accompany these requests with sob stories designed to manipulate your emotions. Beware of another potential scam where scammers send you money, attempting to involve you in money laundering schemes by asking you to deposit funds into your bank account, distribute the money to others, or deliver packages.
- Specific payment methods: Be wary if your online partner insists on receiving money through wire transfers, preloaded gift cards, or by setting up a bank account in your name. These methods enable scammers to quickly acquire cash while remaining anonymous, and reversing the transactions becomes challenging. Additionally, scammers may demand additional payments, and if you refuse, their messages might become desperate and aggressive.
By remaining vigilant and recognizing these warning signs, you can protect yourself from falling victim to romance scammers who seek to exploit your trust and emotions.