Do You Think You Might Be Dating a Scammer?
When Debby’s husband passed, it didn't cross her mind that she would start dating again. But after joining an online dating site and meeting “Eric,” an international businessman and widower, she felt ready for another relationship. That is until he started asking for money.
Eric claimed he was moving back to the United States to be with Debby, but he needed help with legal fees, sudden medical bills, and other costs. Over two years, Debbie transferred over $1 million before finally realizing the truth — “Eric” was really a scammer on a dating site [*].
The sad truth is that Debby’s story is far from unique. According to the FBI [*]:
“Americans have lost over a billion dollars to romance scams in the past year alone.”
With dating apps like OkCupid, Tinder, and eharmony becoming more popular since the pandemic, scammers have increasingly targeted those looking for love.
In this guide, we’ll explain how romance scams work, describe nine warning signs that indicate you’re dealing with an online dating scammer, and cover what to do if you think you’ve been scammed.
What Are Romance Scams? How Do They Work?
Romance scams occur when fraudsters create fake personas and pretend to have a romantic interest in someone online. Using manipulation tactics, romance scammers create a feeling of mutual trust while aiming to con the victim out of money.
Romance scams usually occur on dating apps, online forums, and social media sites. And while these scams can affect anyone, scammers mainly target vulnerable people — often older widows or divorcees — and try to make them feel special in order to develop a relationship as quickly as possible.
These scams can be incredibly dangerous — both financially and emotionally. The average loss for victims of romance scams was $2,000 according to Aura data from January 2023 [*]. And that says nothing about the emotional damage caused.
Online dating scams usually follow a common pattern:
- Scammers create a fake profile. Scammers on dating sites never use their own pictures. Instead, they’ll “catfish” their victims by using stolen photos of attractive individuals.
- They’re quick to call it love. After you connect, the scammer will try to move the relationship forward as quickly as possible. They’ll use “love bombing” techniques to make you feel that it’s something real — and then suggest you move off the dating app to messaging apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp, or Telegram.
- Then, they start to ask for things. Once they have your trust, the scammers create elaborate scenarios and ask for financial help to get them out of trouble. They may ask you to send cash or gift cards, invest in a cryptocurrency scheme, or share sensitive photos.
- They never meet in person or appear on video chat. The scammer often proposes marriage or offers to meet in person — but always needs something first and has ongoing excuses for why they can’t meet.
- The scam continues for as long as they can get something out of you. The end goal of online dating scams can vary. Sometimes, the goal is to get you to divulge personal information and make you the victim of identity theft. Other times, they’ll continue the scam for months or years, trying to con you out of as much money as possible.
How To Spot Scammers on a Dating Site: 9 Warning Signs
- You can’t find information about them online
- They quickly tell you they love you (i.e., “love bombing”)
- Too perfect — especially in photos
- Always traveling or live far away from you
- Refuse to video chat (or always cancel)
- Constant family or personal emergencies
- Asking for financial help or talking about investments
- Pushing for your personal information
- Try to move the conversation off the dating site or app
Romance scams are becoming more common, but several warning signs can alert you early. Here’s how you can spot a scammer on a dating service:
1. You can’t find or verify information about them online
Because online dating scammers set up fake profiles using stolen information and photos from real people, they often have no digital footprint. This means they don’t appear where you’d expect them to, like on social media platforms, LinkedIn, work or university accounts, school listings, and so on.
Here’s what to do:
- Do a simple Google search of their name and any other information about them — For example, “John Smith + doctor + Minneapolis.” Check the listings for the person you’ve been talking to.
- Use Google’s reverse image search tool to check that their photos are authentic. This feature will return the source of stolen pictures, such as stock image websites and unrelated social media profiles.
- Check their reaction. If you don’t find anything, or things aren’t adding up, ask them about it. If they’re lying, you should be able to tell from their reaction.
💡 Related: What To Do If You’ve Been Scammed Online (and How To Report It) →
2. They quickly tell you they love you (i.e., “love bombing”)
Within a very short period of time, scammers will profess their love, often attributing the romance to “destiny” as a ploy to make the victim feel as special as possible.
This tactic — called “love bombing” — is part of the emotional manipulation that scammers use to target vulnerable people who are yearning for a romantic connection.
Here’s what to do:
- Keep your eye out for matches that are overly devoted or propose marriage early in your communication. While falling in love quickly isn’t impossible, it’s a red flag, especially when combined with other warning signs of online dating scams.
- Don’t let yourself be manipulated. Authentic relationships develop naturally (and often slowly). And since you’re meeting this person online, you should allow ample time to get to know them (and for them to get to know you).
3. They’re too perfect — especially in photos
Scammers use attractive photos to lure people in; and once you’re talking to them, they appear to share your same interests and opinions. If the person you’re talking to seems too good to be true, they very well might be.
Here’s what to do:
- Pay attention to the warning signs of a catfishing scam. If the profile pictures are too attractive or magazine-quality, it may be a scam. Likewise, scammers usually don’t have access to many images — so if they seem to use the same few images across their social media and dating profiles, it’s a bad sign.
- Ask to meet up. Scammers will never meet you in person — or will make plans and bail on you at the last minute. If they ask for you to pay for their transportation (like a plane ticket), refuse outright — they’re trying to scam you. If you do manage to set up an in-person date, always meet in a public place and let other people know where you’re going and whom you’re meeting.
4. They’re always traveling or live far away from you
A common strategy for romance scammers is to profess that they want to see you in person; but when it comes time to meet, there’s an unexpected issue. This is why many scammers claim to be from the United States but are overseas, traveling, or on military deployment. Since they aren’t who they say they are, romance scammers don’t want to meet you in person.
Here’s what to do:
- Set up a video chat. Even if someone is overseas or traveling, they can connect with you through video. If they agree, pay attention to their video quality, use of language, and demeanor. If how they appear or talk contradicts how they act by text, it might be a sign that you’re dealing with a swindler.
- Don’t be fooled by quirky or low-quality video chats. Many scammers will use blurry or buffering videos to make it look like you’re meeting the real person. If they claim their internet connection is poor (and quickly turn off video), it could be a scam.
- Keep the conversation on the dating app, and don’t provide your phone number. If you’re setting up a voice or video chat, it’s safer to use an app like Zoom or Skype rather than give anyone your phone number.
💡 Related: What Can Scammers Do With Just Your Phone Number? →
5. They refuse to video chat (or always cancel at the last minute)
With today’s technology, refusing to meet over FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype is highly questionable. If someone outright refuses to get on a video chat or cancels on you multiple times, it’s likely a scammer.
Here’s what to do:
- Cease all communication. If you get a bad feeling about someone you’re talking to, there’s nothing wrong with cutting off contact. Their fabricated reasons for not being able to call will often lead to them asking you for financial help. It’s safer if you avoid them entirely.
- Document your conversations. If you suspect the person you’re talking to is a scammer, you can document your interactions so that you have evidence against them if you fall victim. The best way to do this is by taking screenshots of the conversation.
6. They’re always dealing with family or personal emergencies
Once they have your trust, online dating scammers quickly claim they’ve had an emergency and you’re the only person who can help them. They never have the money to help themselves, and the stories often sound dramatic.
- Remain careful and skeptical. Take it as a red flag if their life seems like a soap opera or if they start talking about money or needing financial help. Keep an eye out for stories that seem like they could be copied, pasted, and sent to several people. Also, pay attention to inconsistencies in their stories.
- Refer them elsewhere. If they ask for help and you think it could be legitimate, consider referring them to the proper authorities. For example, if they’re outside the United States, refer them to a U.S. consulate or embassy in their country.
💡 Related: The 9 Worst Wire Transfer Scams (and How To Avoid Them) →
7. They ask for financial help and gifts, or talk about investments
The main danger of online dating scams is handing over your money or financial information (like your credit card details). While scammers often ask for funds directly, a new and trending online romance scam tries to get people to invest in sham cryptocurrency apps or websites.
Here’s what to do:
- Never send money to people you meet online. Consider it a rule that if someone asks you to send them money, it’s a scam. Con artists also often demand anonymous payment methods (like wire transfers or gift cards) that make it as hard as possible for you to get your money back.
- Don’t invest in crypto schemes. In the “Pig Butchering” scam, fraudsters tell victims to deposit money into “special” cryptocurrency exchanges that show high (and falsified) returns. But when victims try to withdraw their earnings, they’re told they can’t.
- Keep your eye out for “money mule” scams. In this type of scam, the cybercriminal actually sends you money and asks you to send it on to another party. But this is an intricate money laundering scheme designed to keep the scammer’s hands clean.
8. They ask for your personal information to “prove” that you’re committed
Aside from money, scammers are also on the lookout for personal information. Depending on the scam, their goal might be to steal your identity, commit account takeover fraud, or use your personal information (or sensitive photos) to blackmail you.
Here’s what to do:
- Never give people your personal information. You might want to share things when you feel that your relationship is getting serious, but this is a bad idea if you haven’t verified or met the person.
- Pay attention to people asking too many questions. One scam tactic is to find out your security questions and answers — details like your first pet’s name or the street you grew up on. They might even give legitimate-sounding reasons for why they need to know your Social Security number (SSN). If you refuse to answer questions and they get frantic, you’re dealing with a scammer. A genuine romantic interest would understand your caution.
💡 Related: Did You Accidentally Give Your SSN To Scammers? Do This Now →
9. They want to move the conversation off the dating site or app
Often, scammers want to move from the dating app to a more private form of communication. This may not seem like a red flag at first, but it’s a way for scammers to access your personal information (like your email address or phone number).
Here’s what to do:
- Stay on the dating site or app until you meet your new love interest in person. Many online dating sites offer important safety features that you’ll lose if you move onto another messaging app.
- Never provide your personal phone number or email. This information can be dangerous in the hands of scammers, as it gives them the opportunity to attempt other forms of scams — like phishing emails or “smishing” text messages.
Do You Think You’re Dating a Scammer? Do This!
- Don’t blame yourself. Online dating scams are all too common, and it’s easy to become a victim. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, act quickly to prevent further damage.
- Break off contact (but don’t call them out). The first step is to completely remove yourself from the situation. Don’t lash out or let the scammer know you’re onto their ruse. Not only does calling them out give fraudsters a chance to protect themselves, but it also gives them another chance to try and scam you.
- Report the scammer to the dating site or platform. The quicker you report the scammer, the quicker the dating platform can remove their account and protect other people from falling victim.
- Submit a complaint to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). If you’re a victim of identity theft, you should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov.
- Freeze your credit and sign up for fraud alerts. If you gave the scammer personal or financial information, freeze your credit and inform your financial institutions so they can place extra protections on your accounts.
- Change your online passwords. If the scammer has your personal information, change your passwords, and sign up for two-factor authentication (2FA) immediately. This will help protect you from account takeover fraud.
- Consider signing up for identity theft protection. Aura can help protect you from identity theft, financial fraud, and malware. If the worst happens, you’ll be covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for any eligible losses from identity theft, and you’ll have access to Aura’s 24/7 Fraud Resolution Specialists. Sign up for your free 14-day trial of Aura today.
How To Stay Safe on Dating Sites and Apps
The danger of getting scammed while dating online can be daunting — but don’t give up. You can safely use dating apps to find love if you’re cautious and understand the signs of online dating scams.
Here’s a list of ways to proactively stay safe while dating online:
- Go slowly. Don’t let scammers or anyone else rush you into doing anything you don’t want to do.
- Ask lots of questions. If a match is genuine, the other person will understand that you’re being skeptical and cautious.
- Research the person’s photos and profile. Do your due diligence to make sure you’re not dealing with an imposter.
- Know the red flags of a catfishing scam. Trust your gut if something feels too good to be true.
- Talk to someone you trust. Friends and family members might have concerns or notice something you missed.
- Never send money, cryptocurrency, or gift cards to anyone online. These payment methods are almost impossible to refund or recover if you get scammed.
- Never provide personal or financial information to people you meet on online dating websites or apps. Build a real, in-person relationship before sharing sensitive information.
If you’re still worried about the threats of online dating, consider signing up for Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution. Aura can protect you and your family against scammers who want to steal your money or commit identity fraud.