arrow left facebook twitter linkedin medium menu play circle

Live Webinar on Feb 28: Authorized Push Payments (APP) Fraud: Trends, Risks, and Your Defense Playbook

Digital Fraud Wiki

Your source for the latest fraud intelligence, insights, research, and commentary.

Romance Scams: Unraveling the Web of Deceit

Romance scams have become an alarming concern in the digital age, preying on individuals seeking love and companionship online. These scams take various forms, exploiting emotions and trust for financial gain.

What is a romance scam?

A romance scam is a deceptive scheme where fraudsters create fake identities to build romantic relationships with unsuspecting individuals. The ultimate goal is usually financial gain, and scammers use tactics like emotional manipulation and false narratives to exploit their victims.

Romance scams typically lead to other financial frauds, like phishing, pig butchering scams, real-time payment fraud, and money mule scams.

Types of romance scams

Catfishing

How it works: Scammers create fake profiles with attractive photos and a compelling backstory to lure victims into online relationships.
Red flags: Be cautious if the person refuses to meet in person, has inconsistent or vague information, or avoids video calls. They may also agree to short video calls but end them quickly and switch back to messaging.

Long-distance relationship scams

How it works: Scammers claim to be working or traveling abroad, making it difficult to meet in person. They may use this excuse to ask for money for supposed emergencies or travel expenses.
Red flags: Be skeptical if the person constantly avoids meeting face-to-face and requests money for various reasons.

Military scams

How it works: Scammers pretend to be members of the military stationed overseas. They often claim to need money for leave, medical expenses, or emergencies.
Red flags: Be suspicious if they quickly declare their love, claim to be deployed in high-risk areas, or request money for reasons related to their military service.

Phishing scams

How it works: Scammers use fake profiles to trick victims into clicking on malicious links or sharing personal information, which can lead to identity theft or financial loss.
Red flags: Be wary of unsolicited messages with links, requests for personal information, or attempts to move communication to external platforms.

Blackmail and extortion

How it works: Scammers build an online relationship, sometimes involving explicit content, and then threaten to share compromising information unless the victim pays money.
Red flags: Be cautious if the person pressures you to share personal or explicit content, and never share compromising information online.

Pig Butchering Scams

How it works: A romance scam variant where scammers trick a victim into handing over their money via cryptocurrency fraud. They start using catfishing or long-distance relationship scam tactics, then fool the victim into investing in a cryptocurrency scheme, “fattening them up” by having them invest as much as possible before stealing the victim’s tokens and disappearing without a trace.
Red flags: Look out for “wrong number” texts from contacts you don’t know, and strangers that want to keep a conversation going.

How to spot romance scams

Scammers work hard to build trust and emotional connections with their victims. Here are some tactics to watch for when spotting a romance scam.

1. Things seem too good to be true

If the person’s profile seems overly perfect, with exceptionally attractive photos and an idealized background, be cautious. Scammers often create a persona that is designed to appeal to a wide range of people.

If you think the photos might be unrealistic, use reverse image searches to check if the photos on the person’s profile are stolen from other online sources. Scammers frequently use stock photos or images of other people to create fake identities.

2. Love bombing

Scammers may “love bomb” victims, or express strong feelings of love or affection very quickly, even before meeting in person. Be wary if the relationship seems to be moving too fast.

3. Avoiding in-person meetings or talking via phone or video chat

If the person consistently finds excuses not to meet in person, such as claiming to be working abroad or facing unexpected obstacles, it could be a red flag. If the person avoids phone calls or video chats, it could be a sign that they are not who they claim to be. Scammers often use various excuses to avoid revealing their true identity.

4. Requests for money

One of the most significant warning signs is when the person starts asking for money. Scammers often come up with various reasons, such as emergencies, medical expenses, or travel costs. Never send money to someone you’ve only met online.

5. Inconsistencies in stories

Pay attention to inconsistencies in the person’s stories and details. Scammers may forget the lies they’ve told, leading to conflicting information.

6. Pressuring for personal information

Be cautious if the person is pressuring you to share personal or financial information. Scammers may use this information for identity theft or financial fraud.

7. Monitoring social media activity

Check the person’s social media activity. If they have very few friends or followers, limited activity, or a recently created profile, it could be a sign of a scam.

How to avoid romance scams

  • Be skeptical – Understand that scammers are skilled at creating deceptive personas to manipulate emotions.
  • Do research – Use online tools to verify the person’s identity. Conduct reverse image searches on their profile pictures to check if they appear elsewhere on the internet. If the person claims to be working abroad, in the military, or facing other unique circumstances, independently verify their story.
  • Keep your personal information private – Avoid sharing personal or financial information with someone you’ve just met online. Be cautious even with seemingly innocuous details, as scammers can use them to build a false sense of trust.
  • Avoid sending money – Never send money to someone you’ve only met online, regardless of the reason they give.
  • Be cautious of love bombing – If someone professes love or deep affection very quickly, consider it a potential red flag. Scammers often use rapid emotional escalation to manipulate victims.
  • If you’re suspicious, set up a video call – Whenever possible, have video calls with the person to confirm their identity. Scammers may be hesitant or make excuses to avoid video chats or will try to keep these short if they are using deepfakes.

Are romance scams illegal?

Yes, romance scams are illegal in many jurisdictions. While the specific laws and regulations may vary from one country or region to another, engaging in deceptive practices for financial gain, exploiting someone emotionally, or using false pretenses to obtain money is generally considered fraudulent and illegal.

Dating platforms and social media websites have reporting mechanisms in place for users to report suspicious activity, and they may work with law enforcement to investigate and take appropriate actions against scammers.

How to detect and prevent romance scams

AI platforms, such as DataVisor, play a crucial role in detecting and preventing romance scams and other financial frauds. Using advanced machine learning and AI techniques, the platform analyzes large datasets and identifies fraud patterns. When catching romance scams, this works in a few ways:

  • User Profiling – AI systems create profiles of users based on various attributes and behaviors. Deviations from typical user profiles, such as sudden changes in location, language use, or interaction frequency, can raise flags and trigger further investigation.
  • Anomaly Detection – AI platforms use anomaly detection algorithms to identify unusual patterns in user behavior. For example, if a user suddenly starts sending a large number of messages or exhibits atypical login patterns, it may indicate fraudulent activity.
  • Device Fingerprinting – AI systems may employ device fingerprinting techniques to track and analyze the devices used by users. Sudden changes in the type or number of devices associated with a single account may signal fraudulent behavior.
  • Machine Learning Models – AI platforms develop and train machine learning models on historical data to recognize patterns associated with romance scams. These models learn from past instances of fraud to improve their ability to detect new and evolving scam tactics.
  • Geospatial Analysis – Analyzing the geographical data associated with user activity helps identify discrepancies in location information. If a user claims to be in one location but exhibits behavior consistent with another, it could raise suspicion.
  • Collaborative Filtering – Collaborative filtering algorithms help identify relationships between users based on shared characteristics or behaviors. Unusual connections or clustering of suspicious accounts may be indicative of a scam network.
  • Real-Time Monitoring – AI platforms often operate in real-time, continuously monitoring user activities to detect and respond to potential fraud as quickly as possible.

To learn how DataVisor’s award-winning platform detects romance scams and the subsequent financial frauds that come from it, schedule a personalized demo with our team.