Sadly, scammers often target people looking for love or companionship, especially on dating apps or sites. While fraudsters may use a variety of techniques to trick people out of money and information, they tend to follow a common blueprint. Our identity specialists are here to guide you on what to watch out for and how to stay safe when meeting your match.

Is your new online friend or love interest really who they say they are?

It’s an important question to ask yourself — especially given that romance scams have led to $1.3 billion in losses over the past five years, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Unfortunately, this type of fraud is a growing problem. The same research shows that a record $547 million was lost to romance scams in 2021 — an 80 percent increase from the year before.

So how can you avoid falling for this type of scam?

Whether you're looking for love or making new friends online, try these tips to better protect yourself. 

How do romance scams happen?  

It’s reported that millions of U.S. adults use dating apps or sites to meet people and form new relationships.

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 and/or phone number can create an online dating profile — and that includes bad actors hoping to pull off a love scam.

To lure victims, these scammers might include attractive — and often fake — photos on their profiles.

And these scams don’t only play out on dating sites. Bad actors may friend you on social media and run their scams from there.

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 — usually involving an elaborate and urgent excuse to steal your money.

Or, they might steal your identity if they successfully convince you to provide other personal information. 

Pro Tips

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 marketing stock photo or if it’s also used by someone with a different name, that’s a warning sign. Here’s one way 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” 

Four red flags of a romance scam

It’s possible to overlook warning signs once you start to feel a connection with someone. Still, it’s crucial to keep these red flags top of 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 reported sending money repeatedly, according to the FTC.

  • Unlikely claims: Romance scammers sometimes claim to be well-known people and use celebrity names 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; one recent example is a scammer pretending to be the actor Mark Harmon,” 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 cannot happen and entices you to provide additional money. 

Tips 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 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.

From there, listen to your gut. "My biggest piece of advice? 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 their image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.

And as a general rule for protecting yourself against any scams, think twice about the information you share online. Scammers may use any details on your social media profiles or dating profiles to better understand and create targeted messages toward you.

Bottom line: safeguard your personal information and your money, and think long and hard before sharing either.

Fast Facts

Romance scammers target people of all ages — but their ploys impact different age groups in distinct ways.

  • Reports of romance scams increased across all age groups in 2021 — but for those ages 18 to 29, the rise has been particularly noticeable. Between 2017 and 2021, the number of reports for this age group increased more than tenfold.¹

  • In addition, the median loss to romance scams among people ages 18 to 29 was $750.¹

  • Unfortunately, older adults tend to lose more money. For people ages 70 and older, the reported median loss was $9,000 — the highest of any age group.¹

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 and/or money, 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, know that our team is standing by to help you navigate the situation.

Our identity specialists can also help untangle the damage left behind. For example, they can guide you through next steps, such as assisting with closing fraudulent accounts or connecting you with the right parties to request reimbursement.

Take care of your mental health if you’ve been a victim 

If you are experiencing or recovering from a love scam, feelings of shame, embarrassment, shock, anger, and anxiety may 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.” 

  1. Federal Trade Commission, Reports of romance scams hit record highs in 2021, February 2022