According to a study published by Pew Research Center, online dating has seen a marked increase in recent years, with 30 percent of Americans using either a dating site or app in 2020. While online dating is a great way to meet romantic interests outside of traditional methods, especially with the precautions introduced by the pandemic, not everyone with an account on a dating platform is searching for love
. Since 2019, victims of romance scams across the U.S. have reported more than $2.6 million in losses per year to BBB Scam Tracker. Romance scams are an atypical con in that communications with the scammer persist for months or, in some cases, years after the initial interaction. These con artists will dedicate weeks or months of their time to build a relationship with a victim, using flattery and confessions of love to build a foundation that they can leverage to perpetrate their schemes.
In October 2021, one Texas resident reported to BBB Scam Tracker that after two months of conversing with a romantic interest who claimed to live in Dubai and worked on an oil rig, he required financial assistance to support his teenage daughter. The victim provided a total of $2,200 over a series of requests before becoming aware of the scam. “[The scammer] said everything I yearned to hear,” the victim reported. “Used terms such as ‘my queen’ and was interested in marriage.”
In a February 2021 press release, the FTC reported that losses to romance scams reached a record $304 million in 2020. From 2016 to 2020, monetary losses to romance scams increased by a factor of four, and the number of reports nearly tripled. Often, con artists will say they live or travel outside of the U.S. and are employed by working on an oil rig, in the military or as a doctor with an international organization. Soon after establishing a relationship with the victim, the scammer will ask their target for money to help them pay for an immediate or emergency situation, such as a medical operation, travel expenses to come to the U.S. or unpaid debt.
“Con artists using romance scams rely on the kindness and trust of their victims more than any other type of scam,” said Heather Massey, vice president of communications for Better Business Bureau serving the Heart of Texas. “It is in our nature to want to help out others, especially when we are romantically involved. However, it is important to remain aware of the tactics used by scammers and remain cautious when pursuing a relationship with anyone that you haven’t met in person.”
BBB provides the following tips to help users of online dating sites and apps steer clear of romance scams:
Be cautious of immediate confessions of love. For most people, falling in love with a romantic interest takes time and shared experiences. Immediate confessions of adoration and love, even if reciprocated, should be treated with caution before having an opportunity to meet in person or take part in a digital date. Con artists are well-versed in making themselves appear to be what they are not, including using language that may seem to be genuine.
Never wire money to online interests. No matter how much the person claims they need the money or what will happen if they do not have a certain amount of money, never transfer funds to online interests through a wire service, bank transfer or gift card. Scammers know that these payment methods are fast, anonymous and almost impossible to reverse.
Verify the authenticity of photos. A common tactic of scammers is to steal photos online of either people they are claiming to be or of locations where they claim to live. Use reverse image search to see if the photo is publicly available or of another person. Scammers are proficient in the use of editing software and may use a standard picture of a landmark with a picture of themselves edited in. Look for the hallmarks of edited photos, such as signs of warping, an interrupted background pattern or missing shadows.
Do research, ask questions. Spend the time researching the area they claim to live in for popular landmarks or attractions. Once you’ve compiled a list of places that they are likely to know about if they live in the area, ask pointed questions about them and their opinions. Ask about some of their favorite places to eat, socialize or visit in the area and verify those locations exist.
Ask about their employment – if they work on an oil rig, ask what company owns the rig or what organization they are a doctor for. You can verify some of this information online, but these questions may also expose a scammer if they struggle to answer them easily.
For more information about how to identify and avoid romance scams, visit BBB.org/Romance.
ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2020, people turned to BBB more than 220 million times for BBB Business Profiles on 6.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at BBB.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Heather Massey, Vice President of Communications
BBB Media Office