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Love, Lies, and Digital Thieves: Spot and Avoid Romance Scams

Love, Lies, and Digital Thieves: Spot and Avoid Romance Scams

Jenius Bank Team2/14/2024 • Updated 4/4/2024
A woman looking at her laptop with an unknown figure offering her flowers.

A scammer may be hiding just behind the screen.

According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 30% of U.S. adults have used a dating site or app at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, these connections don’t always result in a lasting love. And sometimes, they lead to more than heartbreak.

In 2022 alone, more than 70,000 people fell victim to romance scams in the U.S., and those scams were costly with the median loss being $4,400!1 At Jenius Bank, we want to help you and your loved ones stay safe from romance scams. Our own fraud team took the time to provide some tips that may help protect some hearts and wallets.

Key Takeaways

  • After years of industry experience, our Jenius Bank fraud fighting team has seen all types of people fall victim to romance scams—anyone may be vulnerable regardless of gender, gender identity, or age, but scammers often target older individuals.

  • These scams typically result in the scammer asking for money after building trust and feigning romantic interest in the victim.

  • Protect yourself from scams by researching the person you’re talking to and not sending money to anyone you don’t know.

What Is a Romance Scam?

Romance scams are a type of financial fraud where the scammer pretends to be romantically interested in their victim, often feigning affection until their victim trusts them. They use that trust and convince the victim to send the scammer money. Once the scammer receives the funds, they often call the relationship off or disappear.

These scams often start online through social media sites, dating sites, and other similar outlets where people interact online. Scammers create fake profiles and use them to gain the trust of their target, often doing extensive research on potential victims by checking their social media profiles and online presences. Scammers tend to target older people who may feel alone or could be struggling in their current relationship.

That said, anyone could be a victim, regardless of gender, age, gender identity, or income level.2

Romance Scammer Red Flags

In the digital age, more people use online avenues when looking for romance or companionship. While many are doing so genuinely, it’s important to be alert for warning signs of romance scammers before becoming emotionally invested. Some examples:

  • Profiles that seem too good to be true. If something online sounds too good to be true, it usually is. And the same holds true for online profiles and prospective partners. Fake profiles typically come across as the perfect fit, so proceed with caution.

  • They can’t meet in person. According to Jenius Bank Fraud Team Investigator Ashley Calhoun, “Scammers often create anticipation that they're going to come see or meet you, but something happens to interrupt it, such as someone being in the hospital, or they need money for a plane ticket.” Scammers benefit from mystery, so it’s to their advantage to keep the relationship exclusively online as long as possible.

  • The relationship moves too fast. Scammers exploit trust, so they reel in victims by expressing their (fake) feelings quickly and encouraging the relationship to move to the next level sooner than it should. They use tactics like “love bombing” with excessive compliments and hyperbole; the goal is to make the recipient feel falsely connected, and obligated, to the scammer. Be wary of this type of manipulation!

  • Asking for personal information or images. Some scammers aren’t above blackmailing. If a romantic interest asks for compromising photos or videos, don’t send them! Scammers may threaten to distribute those images unless they receive money.

  • Asking for money. Scammers often pretend to be financially hard up and aren’t afraid to ask for money to cover expenses like supposed airline tickets, visas to travel to the United States, or other similar costs. They may also claim they or a family member are going through a hardship, such as being sick or in jail, or that they could teach you how to invest your money.3 Oftentimes they want money wired through Western Union or MoneyGram, which let them remain anonymous.

If any of these warning signs occur, use caution. According to Jenius Bank’s Head of Fraud John Watkins, “These scams often lead to other confidence scams, such as getting folks to invest money—and usually that investment is in crypto. They use flattery and build a relationship until they take someone for money. It’s all about developing confidence with a person who they have never met in person.”

The Startling Impact of Romance Scams

Romance scams end up costing U.S. citizens a whopping $1.3 billion in 2022.4 And they may be incredibly complex. Some scams last for months as scammers build trust and convince their victims to send them thousands of dollars.

A woman in Baltimore lost her life savings when a scammer convinced her to “invest” in cryptocurrency by sending him money.5 Another in New York lost nearly $500,000 when a scam artist convinced her to send him money to help him out.6

While some victims lose thousands of dollars, other scammers may only trick you into sending a small amount, often by gift card. Regardless of the amount, losing money to a scam is something that no one should ever have to experience.

Strategies to Protect Yourself

Though romance scammers seem to be getting more sophisticated each year, there are some ways to help protect yourself. Here are a few tips.7

  • Be selective about websites: If you’re opening a dating profile or using social media, be careful about the sites you use. Use reputable and established sites, and if you suspect that someone is a scammer, reach out to the site and let their administrators know.

  • Research the person’s photo and profile: If you find someone you’re interested in, do your due diligence. Reverse image search the photos on the person’s profile. You could do this by visiting Google, clicking on the camera icon in the search bar and uploading the image. If they’re stock photos or belong to someone else, the reverse search should show you who they may belong to.

  • Watch for lies: When you’re talking to an individual online, be mindful of the answers they give to your questions. Generic responses or an unwillingness to provide more detailed information could be a sign you’re dealing with a scammer.

  • Don’t send money: Never send money to a person you meet online, even if they seem trustworthy. If they’re asking you to help them cover a few bills or are trying to get you involved in some type of investment, it’s likely a scam.

  • Trust your gut: If you have a bad feeling about the person you’re talking to or just feel like they’re trying to scam you out of money, trust that feeling. Stop communicating with them entirely and discuss your concerns with someone that you do trust.

And, after learning these warning signs yourself, be sure to share them with your friends and family. Especially those who may be lonely or who aren’t tech savvy. Think about your parents or even grandparents: they may not be as accustomed to the online world and may be entirely too trusting. A conversation, some education, and even a bit of oversight could help prevent them from falling victim.

Resources for Victims of Romance Scams

Unfortunately, even the most diligent people may still fall for a scam. If you’ve sent money or made a purchase for someone and believe they’re a scammer, contact your bank or credit card company immediately to stop the charges.

According to Jenius Bank Fraud Operations leader Reggie Whitley, “Treat it like identity theft, and talk to all of your financial institutions, such as your bank and credit card companies. File a police report to make sure the scam is recorded and identify all communications with the person. Potentially talk to your cell phone provider or the platform you were messaging them on to get copies of the communications.”

You could also report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Final Thoughts

Romance scams are on the rise, and they could be incredibly costly. Avoid sending money to anyone you don’t know. If you think you’ve been scammed, report the scam to the police or FTC immediately.

By doing your due diligence, you’re better able to protect yourself and your bank account. And if you’re a Jenius Bank customer, know that you’re not alone.

“We have processes monitoring for unusual activity. These also consider a customer's age and monitor their transactions for signs of abuse. If we believe someone is being victimized, we try to have conversations with them,” says Reggie.

It’s nice to know that your bank has your back!

Fraud & SecurityFinancial Wellness