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FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER

Romance Scams

More and more Americans are turning to dating websites and mobile apps in hopes of finding love and companionship. A Pew Research Center study revealed that nearly 60 percent of U.S. adults consider online dating a good way to meet people, and Match.com, one of the most popular dating sites, says people 50 and older represent its fastest-growing share of users. But seeking romantic bliss online can have a major downside: Cyberspace is full of scammers eager to take advantage of lonely hearts.

The con works something like this: You post a dating profile and up pops a promising match — good-looking, smart, funny and personable. This potential mate claims to live in another part of the country or to be abroad for business or a military deployment. But he or she seems smitten and eager to get to know you better, and suggests you move your relationship to a private channel like email or a chat app.

Over weeks or months you feel yourself growing closer. You make plans to meet in person, but for your new love something always comes up. Then you get an urgent request. There’s an emergency (a medical problem, perhaps, or a business crisis), and your online companion needs you to wire money quickly. He or she will promise to pay it back, but that will never happen. Instead, the scammer will keep asking for more until you finally realize you’ve been had.

The FBI says online romance scams are one of the most common types of fraud, with more than 15,000 victims suffering $211 million in losses in 2017. Among victims who reported their age, more than half were over 50, and they accounted for 70 percent of losses, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). And that doesn't include the people who are too embarrassed to report that they’d fallen for a fake companion. Here are some ways to make sure you’re looking for love in all the right places.

Warning Signs

  • Your new romantic interest sends you a picture that looks more like a model from a fashion magazine than an ordinary snapshot.
  • The person quickly wants to leave the dating website and communicate with you through email or instant messaging.
  • He or she lavishes you with attention. Swindlers often inundate prospective marks with texts, emails and phone calls to draw them in.
  • He or she repeatedly promises to meet you in person but always seems to come up with an excuse to cancel.

Do's

  • Do take it slowly. Ask your potential partner a lot of questions, and watch for inconsistencies that might reveal an impostor.
  • Do check the photo, using Google’s “search by image” feature. If the same picture shows up elsewhere with a different name attached to it, that’s a sign a scammer may have stolen it.
  • Do be wary of flirtatious and overly complimentary emails. Paste the text into a search engine and see whether the same words show up on websites devoted to exposing romance scams.
  • Do cut off contact immediately if you begin to suspect that the individual may be a swindler.
  • Do notify the dating site or the maker of the dating app on which you met the scammer.

Don'ts

  • Don’t feel a false sense of safety because you’re the one who made first contact. Scammers flood dating websites with fake profiles and wait for victims to come to them.
  • Don’t reveal too much personal information in a dating profile or to someone you’ve chatted with only online. Scammers can exploit details like your last name or where you work to manipulate you or to commit identity theft.
  • Don’t ever give an online acquaintance intimate photos that could later be used for extortion.
  • Don't send cash to someone you've chatted with only online or put money on a reloadable gift card for the person — you’ll never get it back.

AARP Fraud Watch Network

Fight back against frauds and scams! Call our free Fraud Watch helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak with volunteers trained in fraud counseling. You can also sign up for Watchdog Alerts and check out our scam-tracking map.

More Resources

  • Report a suspected online romance scam to the IC3 and the Federal Trade Commission.
  • The U.S. Army has a detailed fact sheet on spotting romance scammers posing as American soldiers posted abroad. 

Published: Dec. 3, 2018

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