When you hear “romance scam,” you may think of a little old lady falling for the classic “Nigerian prince” scam. But romance scams have become far more complex and difficult to recognize, adapting to today’s online-dating landscape.  

Scammers have set their sights on popular apps such as Match.com, Tinder and Bumble, as well as social media. In fact, consumers lost $770 million to fraud scams started on social media in 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In the first half of 2021, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center received over 1,800 complaints related to online romance scams, resulting in losses of approximately $133.4 million. 

Romance scams can be part of a much larger cybercriminal ecosystem. International cybergangs will even use dating sites to recruit victims as “money mules” and use them to unknowingly launder funds, according to AARP. 

Often, scammers prey on victims experiencing loneliness, which has been common during Covid-19 pandemic isolation. If your friend or relative has started a new online relationship, or even if they’ve been in one for several months, it’s important to check in and look for any red flags. 

Some such signs may include: 

  • A request for money. A request for money is a major red flag indicating a scam. Scammers may pressure a victim into sending money for “urgent” matters, such as medical expenses. They may also say it’s for a plane ticket to visit the victim. Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person. Scammers may also ask for payment in the form of preloaded gift cards or wire transfers. 
  • They may often make and break promises to come see a victim in person. The person claims to live far away or overseas or be in the military. 
  • The relationship is moving fast, and the person professes love quickly. 
  • There’s pressure to move the conversation off the platform to a different site such as Snapchat or Instagram or want to continue the conversation through text. Dating platforms search for scammers on their sites. Scammers want to move their victim off-platform to avoid any detection. 

If you believe a loved one is the victim of a scam, it is important for them to take the following steps:

  • Cease communications with the scammer immediately and take note of any identifiable information they may have given, such as their email address. 
  • Contact the victim’s bank or credit-card company if they’ve given money to the scammer. 
  • File a police report with the victim’s local precinct. 
  • Report the scammer to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint and the FBI at ic3.gov. 
  • Notify the website or app where the victim met the scammer. 

Remember that romance scams can happen to anyone at any age and falling for a scam is nothing to be ashamed of. By speaking out, reporting scams and encouraging others to do the same, you can help protect others from becoming victims. For more information, visit staysafeonline.org/romance-scams.