romance scams

The internet is a great place to meet people. But are you you meeting real people near you or scammers who are out to steal from you? Let’s go over Romance Scams, so that you’ll be a little safer making friends and finding that special someone online.

Red Flags

Is that person you are chatting online looking for a serious relationship, or just your money? It can be really hard to tell! But look out for these red flags:

  • They won’t have a voice or video call with you.
  • They are very far away and cannot meet with you.
  • Meet-ups are planned, but always fall through or are cancelled.
  • Things move very fast, e.g.: they profess their love too quickly or ask for marriage very soon after your first contact.
  • Requests for money come up, to help with medical expenses, travel costs or investment opportunities.
  • Communications move to privacy-oriented apps, like Signal or WhatsApp, and you cannot learn the person’s physical address or true phone number.

Honest people that you have just met may exhibit some of these, too. It can be hard to know who’s legit and who’s lying to you. As the red flags pile up, you should trust the other person less and less. But then you may also see if you can knock down any of those flags by:

Verifying Someone’s Legitimacy

This is easier said than done. Not everyone wants to cooperate with requests for personal info, and with good reason: How do they know that you aren’t a scammer?! Still, these items can go a long way to helping you believe that you’ve met someone like you:

  • Have a call with them, where you can see them and hear their voice.
  • Meet with them in a public place (library, coffee shop, high-traffic building).
  • Perform a reverse image search of any profile picture you have of them. That picture may track back to who they say they are, or it may turn up on a ton of stock photography websites.
  • Ask to postal mail something to them.
  • Do your own research, looking up tax records and court records through trustworthy government websites.
  • Talk with family or friends about your new online acquaintance, to see if they think things are kosher or sketchy.

What Can Go Wrong

I can’t tell you how to create a successful relationship or make lasting friendships online. That’s going to be a challenge for many people, even when everyone is being honest. The hope with this post is that I can help you avoid the worst of the worst and their scams, that are out to take advantage of lonely, trusting people. And to that goal, you should understand what these schemers hope to do:

  • Earn your trust to the point that you’ll send them some money. And then they’ll ask for more. And then more and even more money. This repeated money extraction is sometimes referred to as a pig-butchering scam. Once the victim is bled dry of cash, the criminal will ghost them and move on to the next mark.
  • Convince someone to engage in romantic written/photographic/video content. Once the scammer has enough adult or illicit material, they use it to extort money from their victim. The extortion can be as simple as “I’m going to tell your wife” or as devastating as “I’m actually 16 years old and I’m going to the FBI with those photos you sent.”
  • In rare instances, romance scammers urge someone to travel to visit them. If this happens, it could be a trap. When the romantic hopeful arrives in a foreign country, they could be robbed or kidnapped or worse.

Already In a Jackpot?

If you find yourself in the midst of such a scam, cut off communication ASAP. If you’ve been sending them anything of value, you have got to get a tourniquet on things. Don’t send any more money, and consider any previously-sent gifts or cash as gone and unrecoverable. If you have any other worries, find a trusted person (friend, family member, police officer, pastor, counselor) to consult with.

If you know someone who is in the midst of a romance scam, gently confront them to say how you are concerned for their well-being. Show them this blog post or the many other articles that are out there, describing how romance scams function. Be prepared for and understanding about their resistance. The scammers may be in their heads, and have secured their trust. It can be an uphill battle to convince a romance-victim of the larger truth. In extreme cases, you may have to arrange an intervention.