Protecting Yourself From Internet Romance Scams

Crystal Schwanke
Contributor: Gabrielle Applebury
Dishonest man in darkened room

Finding love online can be hard enough without worrying about falling for Internet romance scams. However, since they are alive and well, everyone involved with online dating has to learn to be cautious and watch for romance scammer tactics.

Typical Internet Romance Scams

The most common Internet romance scams are not too different from the ever popular Nigerian email scam. They follow the same premise, which is as follows:

  1. The scam artist sets up a profile on a dating site and searches for a person that looks like a promising victim.
  2. The scammer contacts that person through the site and begins a relationship through emails and sometimes over the phone. Usually, the thief explains that he is overseas on business or makes another excuse as to why he is out of the country.
  3. Communication progresses as if the thief is falling in love with the victim. Often, he will send flowers, candy, teddy bears, and other presents, usually using a stolen credit card to pay for them.
  4. As the relationship moves forward and the victim thinks he/she is getting closer, the scam artist tells the victim that he/she has come into some kind of financial trouble, has a sick relative, had a death in the family or needs funds for a plane ticket to come to visit.
  5. The scammer asks the victim to wire money, often in exchange for a check or money order (that turns out to be fraudulent) or to send money via PayPal.
  6. The scam artist disappears, taking the victim's money and begins the process all over again.

If the potential victim says no to the request, the thief often tries to use guilt to bully the victim, such as again mentioning the heartbreaking story of illness or loss or saying that the person has destroyed his or her faith in women or men, or in relationships.

Social Media Scams

Romance scammers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms exploit victims in patterns that are similar to typical internet romance scams. The major difference is that social media scammers often steal the identity of a social media user to take advantage of as many people as they possibly can. They do so by copying images and setting up fake accounts with the stolen identity making it challenging for moderators to decipher the real profiles from the fake ones. Social media scam signs include:

  • A profile that looks thrown together without a ton of pictures, comments, or interaction with other users.
  • A stranger suddenly taking a lot of interest in you out of the blue.
  • Someone who you just met asking you for small sums of money early on in your relationship.
  • The scammer asking you for a large sum of money later on in your relationship for an emergency situation and giving you a deadline or very short timeframe to follow through.

Five Signs of Dating Fraud

Scammers' tricks evolve with technology. Because of their ability to change tactics, it is tough for law enforcement to stay ahead of the curve. Therefore, it's imperative that you be proactive to keep yourself safe. Protect yourself from greedy scammers. Keep an eye out for various red flags that could spell danger.

1. Premature Declarations of Love

Keep a level head when establishing new relationships online. If your online interest begins saying, "I love you!" before a reasonable amount of time, run. It is okay to be practical and romantic at the same time. A rush to a commitment could be a ploy to gain access to your personal information.

2. Requests for Money

If you receive requests for money, cease correspondence immediately. Internet dating scams often involve pleas for emergency cash because the scammer owes money, had an accident, or needs an emergency visa. Scammers also ask for "loans" which they do not intend to repay.

3. Foreign Email Addresses

Pay attention to private email addresses. Dating someone from another country is fine if you can verify the actual address. However, if you are receiving emails from different email addresses or if the address seems suspicious, this might be a signal that your "friend" has something to hide.

4. Fake Photos

Everyone wants to date someone who is attractive. However, be cautious about "perfect" photos. Scammers often hide behind stolen pictures of attractive models. Compare photos and look for pictures that are spontaneous and imperfect.

5. Language Usage Problems

Be wary of dating profiles and ads that have a lot of spelling and grammar issues, especially if the person claims to be an American that is simply overseas for work. This could be an indication that he is actually not a native English speaker and, therefore, lying about his true identity and/or background.

Protection From Internet Dating Scams

Thieves have been perpetrating these types of scams for years and know exactly what to say to get the reaction they want and have bilked people into giving up tens, and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's important not to take what these people say, or type, at face value. No Internet protection is better than your own front line vigilance. Dating scams rely on you letting your guard down. Internet dating scams are preventable if you use several lines of defense.

How to Outsmart Romance Scammers

To women talking

Take steps to protect your personal information before engaging in the virtual dating scene.

  • Set up an alternate email account and use it exclusively for dating correspondence. This will shield your inbox from a possible flurry of unwanted email requests.
  • Do not reveal your real name, phone number or address until you are comfortable doing so.
  • Avoid picking a sexy screen name that may attract criminals or sexual predators.
  • Never provide your account number or wire money to a person you've met on the Internet, no matter how much you think you know the person because of online or phone contact.
  • Select a dating service that takes on the prescreening of dating candidates. Reputable companies run a battery of checks like personality quizzes, criminal background checks, and even credit checks.
  • Google their name and search their other social media accounts to double check the information they have shared with you.
  • Google search their Facebook, Instagram or Twitter images to see if the personal information they've shared with you is truthful.
  • If you feel embarrassed to tell a friend or family member about this person's money request, it is probably a scam.
  • Whenever someone asks to borrow money and promises to pay you back, assume you'll never see that money again and think about whether or not you are comfortable with that or can afford that.

How to Ensure Your Date Is Truthful

Woman looking concerned online

It's also important to make sure people you meet online are who they say they are. While meeting in person right away may not be a good idea, there are other ways you can try to ensure that online daters are who they say they are:

  • Have chats over a webcam or via Skype. A lot of scammers use photos of very attractive people to lure victims in. They may shy away from video chats since they look nothing like these images.
  • Ask a lot of questions about the person's personal life, including job and family. If the person is not making up a story, he should have no problem answering them.
  • Trust your instincts and remember that if it feels like someone is manipulating you, they probably are.
  • If your date becomes defensive or threatens you by saying that you don't trust them or care about them when you ask questions that dig a little deeper into something they've shared with you, take that as a huge red flag.

Listen to Your Gut

The most reliable protection you can have is your inner voice. If something does not sound right, listen to your inner voice. Also, keep records of all your online conversations. This could come in handy if you need evidence later.

Protecting Yourself From Internet Romance Scams