How to Avoid Flirting with Con Artists and Other Romance Red Flags
Feb 14, 2023
In 2020, a hidden enemy was rapidly spreading around the world. And it wasn’t COVID-19.
Online dating has skyrocketed over the past decade, especially as pandemic isolation drove more and more people to look for love on the web. But with that rise in popularity came a rise in romance scams: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports consumers lost $547 million to romance scams in 2021, up nearly 80% from the year prior. From 2017 to 2022, people reported losing $1.3 billion to romance scams, more than any other FTC fraud category.
Dating scams are so pervasive that Match Group, the parent company of Tinder, Hinge, Match, Plenty of Fish, and OurTime, launched a public awareness campaign about the issue after building protections into its apps. But romance scams aren’t limited to dating apps; they can happen just as easy over Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites.
‘Tis the season to swipe
This time of year, an annual spike in online dating makes people especially vulnerable to romance scams. Peak dating season starts on #DatingSunday, January 8—the busiest day of the year for online dating apps—and runs through Valentine’s Day.
Scammers are seasoned criminals, often linked to global organized crime syndicates with sophisticated tactics and a team of con artists pretending to be your crush day and night. They know exactly how to exploit the extra app traffic and emotional vulnerability that color dating season. Here’s how to protect your identity, your finances, your heart, and your loved ones from falling too hard.
Spot the red flags
1. They’re too good to be true.
Date with a healthy dose of skepticism. If your crush’s profile picture is a little too out of your league, or their interests are a little too on point, be on high alert. Don’t sell yourself short, but do look for the other telltale signs of a bank-breaker.
Cupid cautions: Perform a reverse image search to see if their photos and details are stolen from another social media account. If a loved one expresses concern about your crush, be extra careful.
2. They’re conveniently unavailable live.
Unlike someone who’s genuinely interested, scammers make it difficult to video chat and nearly impossible to meet up any time soon. They often claim to have a job or lifestyle that requires them to be overseas, as in military or construction.
Cupid cautions: There’s nothing wrong with a long-distance relationship, but avoiding candid video chats and in-person dates is a red flag. Even if they’re willing to go on video, understand that romance scams are often a team effort, where one person acts as the “face” while others handle the chatting. Watch this National Geographic to see a scammer team in action.
3. They move fast.
Crooks are efficient. They’ll love bomb you early and charm you into revealing identity information such as your mother’s maiden name and your hometown so they can start mining for bank access. They may even offer to send intimate photos in exchange for information or ask you to send your own so they can blackmail you with them later.
Cupid cautions: Take things slow, and always keep personal information— especially checking account, savings account, and other financial information—completely private.
4. They ask you to send or move money.
Scammers will eventually ask you to send money to help them deal with a financial emergency, a health crisis, or travel expenses under the promise of visiting you. But once you do it, they’ll disappear. They may also ask you to accept money and transfer it somewhere, making you a “money mule” in a money laundering scheme.
Cupid cautions: Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met, even if they ask you to send to a bank account set up in your name. Asking for gift cards and wire transfers is also a major red flag.
How to move on
If you suspect you’re talking to a scammer, don’t panic. Simply stop responding, report them, and block them. If you’ve already paid them, contact your financial institution right away. And if you’re a Maspeth Federal Savings customer, remember you can always contact us for help. We’ll work with you to help you figure out your situation.
Online dating offers a new world of romantic possibilities, and the vast majority of people doing it are normal, decent people. Have fun out there, but pay attention, assert yourself, and stay safe.
For more information, tips, and real-life examples of dating scams, visit the FBI website.