Romance scams were the costliest cons reported to the FTC in 2019. Hopeful lovers lost over 201 million dollars, a six-fold increase since 2015.
How do romance scams work?
Last fall, my dear friend Mary announced she was ready for love, and asked for help crafting an online profile. Around the same time, an unknown gentleman sent her a friend request on Facebook. Being open to dating, she accepted the friend request.
Mr. Wonderful bragged about being a successful businessman who was traveling to France that very night to execute one final business deal before retiring. He indicated he was flying out from New Jersey later that night and hoped he and Mary could continue to communicate while he conducted his work overseas.
With the global time change and lack of internet access in France, he asked Mary to stop using Facebook Messenger and switch to WhatsApp for “privacy.”
Not understanding the implications, Mary signed up for an account and commenced communicating with her new friend via WhatsApp.
Over the next few weeks, her new Facebook beau wowed her every morning with sweet posts, acted the courtly gentleman, wooed her with promises of tropical vacations and long weekends together, and shared pictures of himself traveling and spending time with friends.
A few days later, Mr. Wonderful declared his love for Mary. Although surprised, Mary politely told him she enjoyed getting to know him but didn’t feel the same. Remember, they’d only communicated via WhatsApp, never in person or over the phone.
He became upset and continued to profess his feelings. Mary, being a kind person, indulged the bad behavior and allowed the “textual” relationship to continue.
About a week later, Facebook shut down the fellow’s account. He began frantically texting Mary through WhatsApp, claiming that Facebook made a mistake. When Facebook re-instituted his profile, he emphatically stated, “They wouldn’t do that if I were a bad guy.”
Mr. Wonderful continued to woo Mary, and ardently promise to take her to Tahiti after concluding his business in France.
Soon, the gentleman began complaining that the French officials would not release his “equipment” from the port without additional payment. He lamented that he would be stuck in France until he paid the extra fines, delaying the promised trip to Tahiti.
Mary received multiple pictures of the port and the “administrators” that would not allow Mr. Wonderful to remove his equipment, thus keeping them apart and unable to live their Tahitian dream.
What to do?
Mr. Wonderful proposed an idea. “Mary, can you loan me 10,000 dollars so I can pay the fees and deliver the equipment to my client? I will give you 12,000 dollars the very next day after I receive payment from my client. Then I can join you and sweep you away to Tahiti. You can make $2,000 in just one day and help me out at the same time!”
Mary responded, “Let’s figure out a different way. Can you take a short-term loan from one of your business associates or ask a friend or family member for the money?”
Mr. Wonderful then turned on her and tried to shame her into giving him the money.
Mary replied, “As a successful businessman, don’t you have contingency plans for this sort of thing”?
Mr. Wonderful pushed back, and Mary immediately stopped communicating by deleting her WhatsApp account and blocking him on Facebook.
End of story. Mary felt the sting of rejection, a little sorrow that she “invested” time and effort into a fake relationship, but walked away with her bank account intact.
How can I spot a romance scam?
Classic romance scams can happen to both men and women.
Scammers are a politically-correct, equal opportunity workforce. They view you as a job!
Hopefully, you will meet a beautiful, honest person online and start a relationship that flourishes in real life (IRL).
However, keep in mind, if someone you’ve met online quickly professes to love you, claims to be overseas for business, or in the military or lures you off the site where you met, you may be the victim of a scam.
If your would-be sweetie asks you for funds to:
- pay for a plane ticket or other travel expenses,
- pay for surgery or other medical expenses,
- pay customs fees to retrieve something,
- pay off gambling debts, or
- pay for a visa or other official travel documents,
You may be a victim of a classic romance scam.
If you suspect you are the victim of a romance scam:
- Stop communicating with the person immediately.
- Slow down and share your reluctance with a confidant. Trust your gut.
- Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. Generally, the photos are associated with other names or details that don’t match up. If you don’t know how to perform a photo search, google it.
- Don’t transfer money, buy a gift card, wire money, or mail a check to an online love interest. Most likely, you won’t get it back!
- Contact your bank or credit card provider if you believe you may have sent money to someone accidentally. Don’t ever reveal your account information online, even to friends and family!
Report your experience to:
- The online site (dating site, Facebook, Instagram)
- Federal Trade Commission: ftc.gov/complaint
- Federal Bureau of Investigation: ic3.gov
For more information about romance scams, watch this informative video from the Federal Trade Commission