Romance Scams: 7 Warning Signs and How To Avoid Them

Unhappy millennial African American woman distressed with problems paying online on laptop with credit debit card.
fizkes / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Online dating is a legitimate way to begin a relationship in the modern age, but online anonymity also exposes users to fraud and scams. The FBI reported losses of over $956 million to romance scams in 2021, so it’s important to learn how to spot scammers and report them before they cause damage.  

What Is a Romance Scam?

Scammers can manipulate people in many ways, but romance scams refer specifically to criminals who take advantage of someone’s romantic feelings to elicit money from them. Using fake profiles on dating websites and social media, scammers develop relationships and build trust with their victims before requesting money.

What Are Common Romance Scams?

There are often common themes behind romance scams, such as:

  • People serving in the military and stationed overseas
  • Doctors, developers and other professionals working overseas
  • Blackmail and extortion using sensitive photos and videos
  • Fake dating sites

The Warning Signs of a Romance Scammer

Romance scams are carried out by real people, not bots, so it can be difficult to spot them straight away. People who ask for money online should always be considered suspicious, but there are also other warning signs that may arise earlier in the scam.

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1. Their Profile Seems Too Good To Be True

Scammers don’t want to be mistaken for bots, so they will create more detailed profiles, but they might seem a little too perfect.

2. They Contact You Frequently and Progress the Relationship Quickly

To get money as soon as possible, scammers will often contact victims multiple times in a day and act very familiar, very quickly. 

3. They Make Professions of Love Far Too Early

If an online love interest is unnaturally quick to say the L word, this could be a warning sign.

4. They Live Very Far Away

To minimize the chances of being asked on an in-person date, romance scammers will claim to live far away from their victim.

5 .They Can’t Visit, Call, Video Call or Send Many Pictures

Since most scammers are using a fake profile or data stolen from another person, they can’t visit, video call or send photos easily.

6. They Ask for Money

There are many reasons a scammer might give for needing money, such as buying a ticket to visit, funding an emergency surgery or fixing some kind of trouble they’ve fallen into.

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7. They Require Specific Payment Methods

Once the scammer gets the money they want, they’ll disappear, and their victim will likely realize what has happened. To prevent the victims from recovering their money, scammers will ask for specific payment methods that are difficult to reverse.

How Much Can a Romance Scam Cost?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the average cost of romance scams for individual victims was $2,400 in 2021. However, the average loss also varies by age group, with 18- to 29-year-olds losing an average of $750 and those over 70 losing $9,000. 

Since romance scammers communicate and learn about their victims, information about their victim’s financial situation can influence the amount the scammer asks for.

How To Outsmart a Romance Scammer

Dating online is becoming increasingly popular, and knowing how to spot a genuine person from someone masquerading under a fake profile is a useful skill that can be applied to scammers, as well. Here are some easy ways to outsmart and expose romance scammers.

  • Reverse image search their profile picture: A real person’s profile picture should bring up other results under the same name, but if the results don’t match up, they could be a scammer.
  • Consult a friend: A second opinion on the behavior of an online love interest can help potential victims spot the warning signs of a scammer.
  • Try to set up a video call or meet-up quickly: Turning an online date into a real date is a surefire way to set any doubts to rest. If they refuse or break promises repeatedly, these could be signs of a scam.
  • Never send money to someone online: Even if there are no other warning signs, never send money to an online love interest.
  • Use a well-known dating site: Some scams take place on fake dating sites, so do the research before signing up.
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Talking with a romance scammer is the same as talking with a real person, so it can be difficult to tell through conversation alone. Watch out for common warning signs, like early professions of love, a lack of photos and video calls and a reluctance to meet. 

How Do You Report a Romance Scammer?

Always report romance scams to the FTC, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and the dating app or social media site where you came across the scammer.

  • FTC: You can report a scam to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
  • FBI: To report a scam to the FBI, call 1-800-225-5324 or go to ic3.gov.

Each dating app or site will have a different process for reporting scams. You should also contact your financial institution if you’ve already sent the scammer money — there may not be anything they can do, but it’s best to report it anyway. You may be able to contest a charge to your credit card or reverse a wire transfer.

Final Take

The best advice is to always go into online relationships slowly, and keep an eye out for information that doesn’t quite add up. To try and recover money from a romance scam, contact the institution you used to send the money.

FAQ

  • Who is most vulnerable to romance scams?
    • Anyone can be affected by a romance scam, but often romance scammers target the elderly and anyone else who may be lonely or struggling to find emotional connection.
  • Can you go to jail for romance scams?
    • Yes, online scams –including romance scams – can end with the scammer in jail.

    Our in-house research team and on-site financial experts work together to create content that’s accurate, impartial, and up to date. We fact-check every single statistic, quote and fact using trusted primary resources to make sure the information we provide is correct. You can learn more about GOBankingRates’ processes and standards in our editorial policy.

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    About the Author

    Monica is a journalist with a lifelong interest in technology. She first started writing over ten years ago and has made a career out of it. She works with industry-leading publications and continues expanding her range on a daily basis.
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