6 minutes reading time
MAR 7 2022

Love Hurts: Romance Scams & How To Avoid Them

We are all fools for love and sure, as the song says sometimes “love hurts”. But some had a higher price to pay for falling in love than others. By now, you’ve probably heard of the Tinder Swindler phenomenon or the Puppet Master craze. These Netflix documentaries are not only incredibly binge-worthy, but they have also brought forward an increasingly important topic; romance scams. These popular Netflix series follow stylish (seemingly wealthy) men like the notorious con artist Simon Leviev who take on false identities to trap unsuspecting lovers. They fool love-struck women into unthinkable debt and heartbreak. Causing the victims to lose everything – their families, their sanity and even hundreds of thousands of dollars – all at the hands of suave masterminds that prey on those looking for love.

As a viewer, you may sit there and think to yourself, “There is absolutely no way I would fall for that.” But you may be surprised. Even the wisest of people can fall victim to these crimes of the heart. But have no fear, you can swipe with security towards a happy online relationship with the right information. Read on to discover why these romance scams are sadly more present, what to look out for and how you can best protect yourself from falling prey to the criminal activity of an online scammer. After all, “it’s a jungle out there”, so let us be your guide.

Why Romance Scams Are On the Rise

Over a decade ago, when the MTV Documentary “Catfish” was released, the world looked on in awe. Creating intimate relationships with a person you have never even met based simply on a profile picture or a few text messages? Crazy talk. But the term “catfish” quickly became a household phrase, even landing in Webster’s Dictionary. It awoke people to the fact this problem was becoming very real in the new digital age. And now that online dating is the new normal, the scams that stem from it are a lot bigger than a simple catfish – and A LOT more common. While these online dating apps and dating sites are incredibly useful, and arguably necessary in today’s dating culture, they are also an easy tool for fraudsters to carry out their vicious attacks. Unfortunate for those who wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Thanks to the pandemic, those searching for love have been hit harder than ever in the past couple of years. The alleged suitors use a multitude of tactics to convince unsuspecting victims to do everything from providing credit card information to becoming money mules. But how could it get so bad? Well simply put, the pandemic made it even easier for scammers because they had a perfect excuse to never meet face to face. Which, as we learned from our friend Nev at Catfish, is the #1 sign of a fake persona.

An iPhone resting against a keyboard with the Plenty of Fish, OkCupid, Bumble, Tinder and Cougarly dating app icons on the screen.

Dating App Red Flags To Watch Out For

How do online romance scams work? Well, these love scams are the easiest for fraudsters because they capitalize on affection and trust. Once that is gained, there is no stopping them. And everyone is a target for these romance scammers regardless of race, gender, age or platform - they are everywhere. Plenty of Fish, Tinder, Bumble - they are lurking on them all behind clever fake profiles. So how can you stay safe when online dating is almost unavoidable in today’s culture? Just look out for these warning signs of a scam just waiting to happen:

  1. Their profile photo is too good to be true.
    If there are not a lot of images, and the ones that are there are wildly perfect…too perfect, it is probably not a real person. Google’s reverse image search tool is your best friend when browsing these dating sites.

  2. They are looking for singles in your area, but are not from around or can never meet you.
    Why are the settings of their app looking near you, if they are not there? Don’t fall for the common military deployment scam or businessman abroad scam.

  3. They leave you wanting more.
    Scammers often have little to no information on their profiles and are not often linked to external social media.

  4. They go all-in right away. These manipulators want to create a connection quickly and know how to do it. Watch out if the connection feels uneasily deep and meaningful way too fast.

  5. They want to take the conversation elsewhere.
    Scammers will move quickly to get you communicating off the dating app and on a separate platform like WhatsApp as we saw with the Tinder Swindler. If they want to sweep you away too fast (albeit his was on a private jet and we are talking to another app) it is still a common tactic. Aside from getting your phone number fast, they also may just simply want you to click another link - that link being untrustworthy or software to scam you. Never. click. the. link.

  6. They ask for money.
    Major red flag. This being the goal of every single scammer out there, it is probably the easiest indicator. Anyone asking for a wire transfer, your financial information, or cryptocurrency should immediately heighten your senses. Family emergencies, money for a plane ticket to finally come see you, they sent you a gift and you need to pay for shipping, fear for their safety (cough Tinder Swindler cough) or whatever else they imagine up - don’t let your kindness be your downfall.

A hand holding iPhone with the Tinder application showing onscreen.

What To Do If You Fall Victim To A Romance Scam

If you are feeling uncomfortable or think you are the victim of one of these schemes, don’t be embarrassed. Unfortunately, this happens to people all over the world, way too often. But there are steps you can take against fraud. According to the FBI, it is best to stop all contact immediately and report them straight away, including but not limited to law enforcement, the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov) in the U.S., and your financial institution. If you lost money, call your bank directly to get help and report your case through your country’s government website. For example, in the U.S you can file a report on the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center IC3. Check with your local authorities to get the advice you need for your particular situation. This goes for all sorts of popular online and offline scams, like gift card scams or online shopping scams - if you see something, say something.

How to Stay Safe in the Online Era of Romance Scams

Just remember, if you find yourself a victim of your own Tinder Swindler, don’t be ashamed, you are definitely not alone in this. And furthermore, don’t let us scare you from finding your perfect match online. There are plenty of real people out there not aiming to trick you into sharing too much personal information, identity theft or financial losses. We’re just here to give you the tools to navigate the online dating world safely. After all, we are all willing to do crazy things for love, but don’t let it get the best of you! Guard your heart and your wallet with these tips and stay safe out there, love is waiting!

Amelia Whittle