Is That Online Romance Actually a Scam?

illustration of online romance with fraudster

Every year, a survey by the National Retail Federation gauges consumer spending on Valentine’s Day. More and more money is being spent on gifts for partners, friends, pets and other loved ones. Records were set in 2019 with $20.7 billion in consumer spending, which were broke in 2020 with spending at $27.4 billion. Not only are gifts to woo others or show admiration the only thing that is hitting the wallets of consumers.

According to the FTC, romance scams were the costliest kind of schemes reported in 2019 with over $200 million dollars lost. And just like spending for gifts, the money lost to romance scams is projected to go up, too.

You had me at hello... ?

A 2019 study by a Stanford sociologist published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that meeting online was the most popular way for couples to connect. And with 2020’s significant increase of virtual technology use, online dating is gaining more steam. This is good news for people looking to make a romantic connection, but it is also good news for scammers.

Online dating sites and digital communication methods are also used by fraudsters. Oftentimes a criminal assumes a fake identity or uses falsified information to woo a potential victim. In the past, con artists looked for people who had recently gone through a divorce or had lost a spouse. As the FBI shares, victims with these characteristics are viewed as being lonely and vulnerable. But as we’ve seen, anyone looking for love could be caught in a romance scheme. And in today’s circumstances, more and more people are eager to reach out, make connections and seek a relationship. In fact, apps and sites including Match, Hinge, Tinder and Bumble are reporting increased usage during the pandemic. So how can you avoid becoming prey to a romance con-artist?

Hasta La Vista, Baby.

Let’s be clear—scammers are mean and they are criminals. When an online relationship accelerates very quickly in its intensity, even progressing to a proposal without ever meeting, proceed with caution. The goal of a romance scam is to gain your trust as fast as possible to get your money. Continue reading for advice and tips when swiping right.

Admirer Alert: Tips to Avoid Romance Scams

  • Be careful of the information you publicly share, as this can make you a target for someone to manufacture shared interests and accelerate a connection. Any personal information should NEVER be made public or shared.
  • When you make a connection online, do some research. Image search and online search to see if the person’s photo or profile is being used in other ways that may be suspicious. Is their photo showing up under different names? Are details of their story echoed elsewhere?
  • Do not share your financial information. Be extremely careful if you are being asked to send lewd photographs, this could be later used to extort you. If you feel as though the individual is isolating you from friends or family, this could also be a sign of a scammer.
  • Is the individual too remote or far away to meet? Are in person meetings always cancelled? It is good to be suspicious—most scamming stories are about a person who is in a distant location to make meeting impossible.
  • If you have only communicated online or by phone, do not send money. Avoid sending money in ways that are difficult, if not impossible, to reverse like wire transfers and gift cards.

Houston, we have a problem.

When an online suitor asks for payment or money, contact us or your bank before sending anything. We at Fidelity Bank want to help our customers avoid falling victim to any scams. As your banking partner, we can share additional insight if you think you are becoming involved in a romance scheme. Or if you would like to transfer funds, we can share alternative (and safer) options available.

If you think you've been scammed, don't let embarrassment stop you from reporting. File a report of a romance scams with the FTC.

Let us (or your bank) know as soon as possible as there may be other ways we can help.

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