How to Spot and Avoid Romance Scams?

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  • Digitizing our soulmate searches has improved the chances of finding partners we click and want to share the rest of our lives with. It also allows unscrupulous criminals to exploit this fundamental human need for monetary gain.

    This article is all about romance scams. It will introduce you to the threat, help you identify the red flags, and provide practical tips on how to stay safe in pursuit of true love.

    What Are Romance Scams?

    Romance scams exploit people looking to form romantic relationships through digital means like social media or dating sites. The scammers first develop a deep and personal yet fake connection to the victim, establishing trust. Eventually, they ask for money to overcome some obstacle, which their love-stricken “partner” doesn’t mind providing.

    Some scammers stop there. Others bleed their victims dry until they have no more savings to part with. It’s almost impossible to get the money back either way since the scammers insist on payment in cryptocurrency, gift cards, or wire transfers.

    According to the Federal Trade Commission, the number of reported romance scam incidents hit a high of almost 80,000 in 2021 and has remained above pre-pandemic levels ever since. Keep in mind that those are just the victims who overcame their shame and came forward – the number of actual cases is likely far higher.

    What Red Flags Should You Look For?

    Online dating has become so normalized that millions of people use it as a legitimate way to connect with potential matches. Still, it’s possible to identify romance scammers if you look for the telltale signs in time.

    Love bombing – While romance scams can last months or even years, the perps want to move things along quickly. That’s why they’ll shower the victim with compliments, profess their love very early on, and try to turn the interaction into a serious relationship as soon as possible.

    Vague profiles – The fewer details the scammers share about themselves, the easier it is to keep their stories straight. Their different social media and dating app profiles usually contain little more than basic info and a handful of the same attractive pictures.

    Refusal to meet – Even though they move fast, something always comes up when you want to video chat or meet face to face. Either their webcam “breaks,” or they must work late.

    Unlikely stories – Knowing more about the victims helps scammers with their manipulation tactics, so they ask many personal questions. Yet, they refuse to reciprocate or keep answers vague. Their stories are inconsistent and dramatic. It’s common for scammers to pose as soldiers nearing retirement, successful doctors on international assignments, or similar successful persons.

    Sudden money requests – Once the victims are spellbound, the criminals introduce sudden complications or emergencies only money can solve. They suddenly get “deployed” and have the victim pay for supplies, a family member falls ill and needs expensive treatment, or they ask for money to buy a plane ticket for an in-person meeting.

    The money disappears for good, as do the scammers once there’s nothing left to fleece, or the victim comes to their senses.

    How to Protect Yourself?

    Romance scams prey on the hopeful and vulnerable, which describes most of us at some point. While their existence isn’t a good reason to swear off your search for an online sweetheart, it does mean you’ll want to approach anyone you meet this way with a healthy dose of skepticism until they prove themselves trustworthy.

    Scammers carefully vet their victims, looking through their profiles and post histories to single out lonely targets with money to lose. You should make yourself a less attractive target by minimizing your online footprint before joining the dating pool.

    That means setting your social media accounts to private and not making your opinions and intimate details publically available. You might need to consider data removal services if you want a more thorough approach to removing sensitive information from the internet.

    Vet the people you interact with first. For example, you can do a quick reverse image search on their profile picture to see if others are using it. The same goes for long, elaborate love messages they might have copy-pasted from somewhere. Ask them to be as forthright about their background as you are and break things off if they repeatedly dodge your requests for video calls or meetings.

    Never give money, personal information, or account details to someone you have only met online. It doesn’t matter how secure your password is if someone else knows it or you use the same one for multiple logins. Plus, if you are using built-in browser password managers, then you are taking the risk of your credentials being compromised, as browser managers can be easily hacked. Instead, download password managers for Windows, iOS, or other operating systems.

    Some scammers will send out fake emails claiming a problem with your legitimate dating site account or ask you to sign up for a new “exclusive” alternative. Learn how to recognize such attempts and start using a password manager to automatically fill in your login details on genuine websites to prevent account theft.

    Conclusion

    Finally, finding “the one” is one of the most worthwhile life goals anyone can pursue. There are more means at our disposal to do so than ever, but they also make disgusting practices like romance scams possible. Take the knowledge we share to heart to keep it from breaking.

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