Each week, the NTIC Cyber Center highlights a different social engineering scam impacting individuals and communities within the National Capital Region. We encourage everyone to share this information with friends, colleagues, and loved ones to help reduce their risk of becoming a victim of financial fraud and identity theft.
A romance scam, also known as a sweetheart scam or confidence fraud, is a social engineering scheme where a perpetrator masquerades as a potential love interest, concealing his or her true intentions to elicit money or material possessions from unsuspecting victims looking for love online. These scammers, who work either alone or in an organized crime ring, create detailed fraudulent profiles on dating websites, apps, and social media platforms using images stolen from legitimate profiles or elsewhere on the Internet.
Potential victims are targeted through messages containing compliments, praise, and expressions of romantic interest. When a victim responds favorably, scammers try to gain trust by promptly responding to messages, sharing personal information and sometimes even sending gifts. Often romance scammers tempt their victims by promising an in-person meeting, but a meeting never actually occurs. To avoid face-to-face meetings, scammers often claim their work requires them to travel overseas or complain that they cannot afford to travel.
When a victim appears to be emotionally invested in the online relationship, scammers fabricate hardship stories and ask for financial assistance. Fooled by what they think is love, victims often agree to send money believing that the scammer will eventually repay them. Scammers request money from other unsuspecting, love-struck victims, covering their scams and locations by using various email accounts, phone numbers, mailing addresses, internet connections, and bank accounts. Since these criminals are often physically located overseas, attribution and prosecution can be quite challenging, if not impossible.
Victims have learned the hard way that falling for a romance scam can cause not only heartache, but also serious financial troubles. According to an FBI report, romance scams result in the “highest amount of financial losses for victims when compared to other online crimes” and the largest number of victims are older, widowed, or divorced women. The following tips will help you identify romance scams so you can avoid a broken heart and an empty wallet:
Proceed with caution when someone you meet online proclaims strong romantic feelings early in the conversation.
Be wary of any online contact who suddenly or repeatedly complains of financial hardship.
Use an online reverse image search tool to help determine if the profile pictures of a suspicious account have been stolen from another account or website.
Beware of requests that attempt to take conversations outside the original online platform. Scammers often try to move the conversation to email or standalone messaging applications if they suspect their fraudulent dating profiles could be removed by website administrators.
Pay attention to frequent spelling and grammar errors; they could indicate that the suitor is from a foreign country where romance scams are common.
Refrain from oversharing personal details or intimate pictures; scammers can use these later to blackmail victims for money.
Suspect a scam if the suitor repeatedly refuses to meet in person.
Immediately stop all contact with any online admirer who asks for money or material items.