They may pose as a lonely oil rig worker or a bored soldier stuck on an overseas military base. At first they ask for companionship, but soon they need funds for emergency surgery or a plane ticket. Whatever the back story, these aren’t genuine romances, but rather online scams. They’re getting increasingly common, too, and the real cost was over $304 million in 2020 alone.
Here’s what you need to know if you’ve met someone through social media, a dating site or your DMs. Try these 11 ways to tell if someone is a romance scammer, and learn how to outsmart them.
1. Stay on the Site
If your romance started through a dating site, the golden rule is to keep communication through the platform’s channels until you’re able to either meet in person or confirm that the person is worthy of your trust. Many romance scammers will try to draw you toward an encrypted chat platform that hides their bogus location and identity. Someone who is genuinely looking for love online should have no issue with chatting through the message platform their dating site offers.
2. You Can’t Hurry Love
One of the telltale signs of a romance scammer is an impulsive declaration of love that comes suspiciously early. The problem for many unsuspecting victims is that it all seems to make sense. That’s why you’ve got to be self-disciplined and force yourself to slow progress down, however seductive they are. Professional scammers are in a rush, and they will quickly give themselves away with impatience if you don’t comply with their schedule.
3. Get Them on a Call
If you can “hop on a call” several times a day for work without complaint, it shouldn’t be too much to ask for your online lover to join you for a quick video chat. They probably won’t, of course, if they’re an online romance scammer. Look out for excuses about cell phone coverage, schedule changes or urgent travel. It’s the only red flag you need.
Scammers cannot afford to reveal their identity in real time. If they only want to communicate by text, it might be time to leave them on unread.
4. They Ask for Money
Romance scammers are just confidence tricksters with a good line or two. Beyond the sweet talk, their only goal is to get their victim to wire money or send gift cards to an untraceable account or nonrefundable payment app. Be warned that the pretext for requesting money can be convincing and elaborate, usually involving an emergency that pulls at the victim’s heart strings. You’re not being callous in saying no, just sensible in protecting your hard-earned money from unscrupulous hands.
5. Check Their Employer
Some romance scammers work in teams, and your online lover may introduce you to “colleagues” or “family members” who appear to corroborate their back story. That’s no substitute for doing your own research. If they’re on an oil rig (allegedly), use Spokeo’s phone and email verification tool to see if their number or email address matches their workplace.
6. Run a Reverse Image Search
It’s highly likely that your romantic contact will pique your interest with a profile picture that features an attractive, charming and seemingly trustworthy person. A quick reverse image search on Google will show you whether they’re a solid 10 or a zero. If the photo has been cloned from someone else’s social media profile, their ruse will be exposed in just a few clicks.
7. Look Up Their Number
There might not be any video calls, but your lover may have given you a WhatsApp or cellphone number. Watch out for two red flags. Firstly, they are nearly always unavailable when you call them. Secondly, their area code doesn’t match the location they claim to be in. Run a reverse phone number lookup to find the address attached to their number, bearing in mind that sophisticated scammers from overseas could use a spoofing system to further hide their true identity.
8. Ask for a Selfie
Want to know where your prospective paramour really is? Ask them for a selfie right now. That definitely won’t be part of their plans. Any genuine person should be able to send a quick snap from their current location, no matter how shy they are. But if your partner is stalling and making excuses, that’s the sign that they’re probably a scammer.
9. Get a Second Opinion
Scammers don’t just seduce their victims. They manipulate them too, with one tactic being to isolate the target from their friends and family. They may try to convince you that yours is a love that crosses impossible boundaries, when in fact it’s just a scam that breaks the law.
If things are progressing uncomfortably fast and getting too intense, bring in a trusted advisor to give their opinion. You could even get your friend to reach out to the scammer themselves to see if the same process and script are repeated.
10. Ask Questions…Again
It’s not uncommon for professional romance scammers to keep several victims on the go at one point to maximize returns. That makes it hard for all but the best to keep track of their lies. Keep notes, drill down on the details and pester your potential lover with questions. It’s the same technique that police interrogators use and eventually it will expose inconsistencies in a fictitious story.
11. No Nudes!
Some scammers may push the boundaries of romance and request nude pictures or videos. Their aim is to hold photos or screen recordings for the purposes of blackmail. Worryingly, most scammers will have done their homework too on your social media profiles, so they may threaten to share these photos with your family or co-workers. Until you are completely sure that the credentials of your romantic partner check out, treat any chat log as shareable and any online video chat as recorded for posterity.
How To Outsmart a Romance Scammer
With more of us spending longer periods online, and many of us feeling isolated and lonely too, romantic scams are likely to become increasingly common. There’s no need to fall victim, however. With Spokeo’s suite of tools for verifying identity and revealing what scammers don’t want you to know, it’s easy to nip a romance in the bud before any damage is done.
Start with a reverse photo lookup to see if the person’s profile picture is genuine, then run a complete check on Spokeo of any other details they’ve shared, such as email address and phone number. Their weakness is that they’re not who they say they are or where they claim to be, but with Spokeo there’s nowhere to hide.