It’s becoming more and more common for couples to meet online. But, before you swipe right, understand that scammers and identity thieves are increasingly using romance scams to steal money and personal information on social sites and dating apps. Learn how to spot this type of fraud so you can date online with confidence.
How do you know if your new online friend or love interest is really who they say they are?
It’s an important question to ask yourself — especially given that reports of romance scams have risen dramatically over the past five years, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
In the last year in particular, losses related to love scams have soared to new heights. Recent FTC research shows that a record $1.3 billion was reported lost to romance scams in 2022 alone. It’s a big leap from the reported $547 million in losses attributed to this fraud type in 2021.
Whether you're looking for love or making new friends, try these tips to better protect yourself online.
How romance scams work
A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that 30% of U.S. adults have used dating apps or sites.
If you’re one of them, keep in mind that not all of the profiles you see online are genuine or operated by someone with good intentions.
The truth is that anyone with an email address or phone number can create a fake profile — and that includes bad actors hoping to pull off a scam.
To lure victims, these scammers include attractive — and often fake — photos on their profiles. And these scams don’t only play out on dating sites: Bad actors may create a fake profile on social media for similar schemes.
However they make contact, the scammers behind these ploys often use emotional manipulation to gain the trust of their victims. Once they engage, they’ll likely weave a bogus story involving elaborate and urgent appeals for your financial help.
Additionally, they might manipulate you into providing sensitive personal information to steal your identity.
Signs of a romance scam
Next time you log on to make a match, maintain a healthy skepticism.
Simply being aware of the possibility of fraud can give you a leg up. And fraud is definitely present on dating sites: the same Pew report found that about half of the people who use dating sites or apps have encountered someone they thought was a scammer.
Of course, it’s possible to let your guard down once you start to feel a personal connection with someone. So keep these red flags in mind when interacting online:
Pleas for help: If your new love interest or friend asks for help with a financial or health crisis, consider it a bad sign. Even worse if they request gift cards as a form of payment. We’ve seen fraudsters claim to be stranded somewhere without money or claim they need to visit an ailing relative but don’t have the funds to do so. And, if they turn to you for help, it’s probably not a one-time ask: people who lost money to a romance scammer have often reported sending money multiple times, according to the FTC.
Unlikely claims: Romance scammers sometimes claim to be celebrities to lure victims. Tracey McNamara, Restoration Specialist at Allstate Identity Protection, has seen these false identities in action. “We’ve seen members report that they were contacted by a famous actor or singer,” says McNamara. “Because the victim is typically a big fan — and the scammer might know that — they’re thrilled and continue the fraudulent relationship.”
Excuses: If it’s a romance scam, there will likely always be excuses — often job-related — for not meeting in person or through a video call. If someone claims to be an offshore oil rig worker, a deep-sea fisherperson, or a deployed member of the military, proceed with extra caution.
Investment “opportunities”: Romance scammers are known to present bogus investment opportunities to their potential victims. They might offer to help guide you through the lucrative opportunity, which often involves cryptocurrency. But, once you’re ready to withdraw your funds, the scammer creates reasons why it can’t happen and entices you to provide additional money.
Military deployed overseas: If you’re talking to someone online who says they’re a serviceperson, that could be a red flag. Scammers are known to pose as members of the armed forces who are deployed and are conveniently unable to meet in person. The FTC recently issued a consumer alert with more tips to help you identify this fraud type.
How to protect yourself from a romance scam
Meeting people online poses risks but there’s plenty you can do to steer clear of dating scams.
For starters, stick with only the most reputable, well-established dating apps and social sites. This is important because fraudsters may even go as far as creating fake dating websites that capture your information.
For help with this, see our guide which can help you determine if a website is safe and legitimate.
Additionally, listen to your gut. "If someone seems too good to be true, they probably are and there's probably something wrong," says Julie Jewell, Senior Restoration Specialist at Allstate Identity Protection. “Trust your instincts and don’t ignore the warning signs.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also suggests researching the person with online searches, including image searches. Reserve image searches may not always yield results but they are a good place to start. You may find out whether your love interest’s image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
As a general rule for protecting yourself online, think twice about the information you share online. Scammers may use any details on your social media profiles or dating profiles to better create messages targeted toward you.
How to run a reverse image search
A reverse image search can help you see where else your new friend’s photo lives online. If their profile picture is actually a stock photo or if it’s also used by someone with a different name, here’s how to check:
Take a screenshot of the image you want to search
Go to Google Images
In the search bar, click the camera icon labeled “Search by image”
Upload the screenshot and click “Search”
How to get help if you suspect a romance scam
Oftentimes victims are unsure of where to report romance scams. The best course of action depends on the specifics of the scam.
When a person willingly shares information, money, or both, even if fraud occurs it may not be considered identity theft.
However, if you’re an Allstate Identity Protection member and you think you’re experiencing a romance scam, k our team is ready to help you navigate the situation and untangle the damage left behind.
If you are experiencing or recovering from a love scam, feelings of shame, embarrassment, shock, anger, and anxiety may also arise. Be sure to give yourself grace during this time and remember that you are not alone.
“Sadly, victims might feel embarrassed to admit they fell for a dating scam, so they might not reach out for help,” says McNamara. “But know that scammers can be very convincing and the earlier we’re aware of any potential issues, the better we can help you.”