Dating scams are a type of internet fraud that involves using fake dating profiles to con large sums of money from someone. Scammers typically use chat rooms and social media sites to troll for potential victims and build a relationship. Once scammers gain someone's trust, they come up with phony reasons to ask for money or convince the unwitting victim to perform illegal acts, such as check fraud.
Dating scams are associated with greater financial losses than other forms of internet fraud, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 2016 alone, the FBI received 15,000 reports of romance scams, which totaled more than $230 million in lost funds. Anyone can fall prey to a dating scam, but the most common targets are:
- Over 50
- Emotionally vulnerable
- Lonely or living alone
Types of Dating Scams
Be cautious of any stranger who rapidly tries to start and escalate an online romance. Scam artists are extremely skilled at using romance as a weapon, and they often invest weeks or months into weaving lies to enchant vulnerable men and women. In the beginning, scammers might even make small gestures to prove their identities are real, such as sending flowers. A scammer's goal is to sprinkle enough basic information on the internet to win over victims and discourage them from investigating further.
Dating scams usually take one of three forms: a financial emergency, a check-cashing scheme or extortion. In the first scenario, the scammer claims to have a financial crisis or a family emergency. Sometimes, it's a sick relative who desperately needs care or the chance to make a big profit from a professional project, which of course, requires urgent startup cash. In other cases, the scammer claims to be a victim of a mugging or needs help paying for a visa, travel expenses or bail after a wrongful arrest. Whatever the crisis, the scam artist inevitably asks for money, often promising to pay it back within a short period of time.
In a check-cashing scheme, the victim unknowingly commits a crime by cashing a fake check. Romance scammers who target Americans usually pose as U.S. citizens living abroad. The scammer sends a convincing check to the victim, claiming to be unable to cash it while living outside the country. To sweeten the deal, the scammer may tell the victim to keep a portion of the money and send the rest overseas.
Unfortunately, the check doesn't clear, and the victim ends up on the line for the stolen funds. To make matters worse, the check-cashing scam is often part of a larger money-laundering scheme. A similar tactic involves asking the victim to forward packages to an overseas lover. Without realizing it, the victim is trafficking stolen goods across international lines.
Another type of short-term dating scam involves blackmailing someone to extort money. The scammer lures a victim into a provocative conversation or asks for photos of a sexual nature. Armed with this incriminating information, the scammer threatens to post the content on "cheater" websites or send it to loved ones.
How to Avoid Dating Scams
The best defense against dating scams is to learn the early warning signs. While their stories may change, scammers reuse the same tactics to scope out good targets.
- Fake profiles: Social medias continually shut down profiles reported as fake, which forces scammers to keep creating new ones. Scammers often have new profiles with one or two mutual friends connected to the victim. But upon closer look, the scammer's other "friends" also have questionable profiles.
- Fake photos: Perform a quick reverse search for photos. Scammers typically steal photos from models or other attractive people.
- Chatting Off-Platform: As soon as scammers hook someone, they try to move the conversation somewhere else, such as email or a private chat.
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