How Criminals Use Romance Scams To Target Vulnerable People

5 min read
Feb 14, 2023 12:44:37 PM

Happy Valentine's Day… Do you have a special someone you have been talking to online? 


If you are reading this, you are probably concerned that this person might be fake. Or it seems too good to be true. Are they after more than just your heart? 


Romance scams are becoming increasingly common, and they can have devastating consequences both emotionally and financially


In a romance scam, criminals manipulate victims into believing they are in love and duping them out of money. 


Knowing the warning signs and staying alert can help you stay safe from these scams. In this guide, we'll explore effective strategies on how to outsmart a romance scammer, safeguarding not only your heart but also your finances.


Romance scams cost Americans $1.3 billion.

According to Federal Trade Commission, almost 70,000 Americans lost money in romance scams in 2022. This is an increase of 56,000 from the previous year. The most recent data shows the total loss in 2022 was $1.3 billion


This is roughly the same as the previous year but significantly higher than the $730 million lost in 2020.


The median loss in each case was $4,000. People over 70 were the most common victims.


Popular Romance Scams


You want to meet them in real life… But they can’t.


Romance scams are based on excuses. They will make an excuse for everything, not reveal their true identity. 


What is the most popular lie told by romance scammers? 


"Help! My Mother is Sick…" (Most Popular)


The scam includes an emergency. Usually with a friend, family member, or loved one. 


The scammer tells the victim that they are either sick, hurt, or in jail. This is an attempt to extract money from the victim to “help them.”


This scam is highly effective because it evokes emotion. You want to help this person solve their problem. Or maybe you believe this is a potential love interest. 


I Will Teach You to Invest. (Most Profitable)


This scam is followed closely by “I will teach you how to invest.”


This scam works because the victim believes they are getting something valuable out of the deal. Potentially much more valuable. Most victims claim the relationship starts on social media. 


The scammer may allow the victim to withdraw a small amount of “winnings” to secure a bigger investment. 


Unfortunately, most of the time, they have minimal knowledge to share. Or simply move on to the next victim once the funds are received. 


Sextortion (Gaining Popularity)


Revenge porn has been a problem on the internet since the 1980s. It gained mainstream popularity in the 2010s with the launch of websites like


The scam includes developing a relationship with someone online. The scammer then convinces the victim to send intimate photos. 


The scammer then demands payment or they will release the photos online. 


This scam is also common with scorned former lovers and angry exes


current romance scams

Source: FTC


How to Outsmart a Romance Scammer


Romance scammers are often not who they appear to be. They might make initial contact through email or an online dating website. And seem interested in getting to know you, but there will quickly be something off about them.


  • They may write a grammar that seems strange
  • Receive money requests early on
  • Have overly enthusiastic declarations of love. 


Knowing these red flags can help you identify potential romance scammers before you get too involved.


1. Be Wary When Offers Are Too Good To Be True.


Criminals may use online dating sites or other social media to build an online relationship with you, gain your trust and eventually ask for money. 


This is common when the scammer claims they are in the military and traveling worldwide. 


They may give many excuses like they’re stuck abroad and need your help to return home or have financial problems that require assistance. 


The offers might seem too good to be true – a sudden job opportunity, business venture, or an inheritance they don’t want to reveal. 


Be sure to stay suspicious if something sounds too good to be true and never disclose any private information or send money.


2. Don’t Share Personal Details With Strangers.


Criminals can use anything you share, from your name and address to bank details and passwords. This is known as doxxing


They will look for any gaps in your story, such as if you’re not sure what state someone lives in or where they work, so it’s important to be aware of potential red flags like that. 


If you are asked to share personal details before meeting a person face-to-face, it’s a sign that something could be wrong. 


Do not disclose any financial details until you are sure of the individual's identity and background. Or never...


3. Maintain Open Communication with Friends and Family


Romance scammers often isolate their victims, discouraging them from sharing details about their relationships with friends and family. Counter this tactic by maintaining open communication with those close to you. Trusted friends and family can provide valuable perspectives and act as a reality check.


4. Use Reverse Image Searches


One of the best ways to practice safety is to perform a reverse image search. You can use Google reverse image search to see if they are using another person’s photo. 


While this process is not 100% reliable, it is the first step to spotting a fake profile photo.


Using another person’s photo is a form of ‘catfishing’ 


If you are unsure if the photo is real or fake, start with a reverse image search. Images contain metadata that can easily be traced to the source. 


5. Verify Their Identity (Set Up a Video Call)


To confirm the authenticity of your online companion, suggest a video call. Scammers often avoid face-to-face interactions as it exposes their deceit. A video call provides a tangible connection and helps establish the relationship's legitimacy.


6. Check Their Online Presence and Research Public Records When In Doubt.


Always research the person’s social media accounts and public records to verify their identity. If a person’s profile seems suspicious, take it as a red flag and don’t respond. 


Remember that scammers often create fake online profiles using stolen photos or information, and these accounts should never be trusted. 


Additionally, some services allow you to search public records to verify the existence of an individual or business entity. 


Taking these precautions can help protect you from falling victim to a romance scam.




Outsmarting a romance scammer requires a combination of vigilance, education, and proactive measures. By understanding their tactics, fortifying your defenses, and seeking professional assistance, you can protect yourself from the emotional and financial devastation these scams can cause.


Remember, a healthy dose of skepticism and a commitment to online safety are your best allies in the quest for genuine connections in the digital world.

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