December 12, 2023

The emotional and deceptive world of romance scams

The emotional and deceptive world of romance scams

Finding “the one” can be a journey, and, unfortunately, you might encounter some wrong “ones” along the way. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), nearly 70,000 people reported a total of $1.3 billion lost to romance scams in 2022. Additionally, a January 2023 survey of over 5,000 adults reported that 25% of American respondents had fallen victim to an online dating scam at some point. As staggering as these figures are, they don’t even represent the full picture — the vast majority of fraud is never reported.

Romance scams prey on people’s vulnerability and willingness to take risks to find love, lulling victims into a false sense of security before robbing them of their money, personal information, and identities.

Keep reading to learn how they operate, how to spot them, and how you can avoid falling into the traps.

Understanding romance scams: How they work

Online dating requires a sense of curiosity and willingness to interact with strangers that fraudsters thrive on, setting the stage for them to swoop in and change your life — just not in the way you’d hoped.

Fortunately, understanding the ins and outs of romance scams can help you protect yourself, even when it’s difficult to accept the reality of the situation.

The psychology behind romance scams

The goal of a romance scam is to establish and maintain a fake online relationship in order to gradually solicit information, money, and/or gifts. Unlike spam calls that can take minutes or less, these ploys are designed to create a false sense of trust over time, potentially leading to consistent rewards for the scammer.

The details may vary from case to case, but romance scams typically follow the same basic steps:

  1. The scammer creates a dating profile or social media account based on a fake persona and stolen images (also known as catfishing).
  2. Once you connect, they may contact you or wait for you to contact them.
    • Scammers may flood apps with fake accounts and entice people to initiate contact, making them seem more legitimate because you reached out to them.
  3. The scammer uses a variety of tactics to convince you you’re in a real relationship.
  4. After enough trust has been built, they ask you for money, gift cards, or personal information they can use to hack into your accounts.
    • Scammers often pretend the money is needed for something that would help the relationship continue or take a step forward, like a better phone or a plane ticket to come visit. This way, you feel like you’re spending the money on the romantic connection rather than simply giving it away.
  5. If you don’t seem suspicious of their behavior, the scam can go on indefinitely.

In some cases, scammers skip the dating profiles and go straight to your text messages. Romance scams are sometimes combined with wrong-number text scams, which occur when scammers send you a text that appears to be intended for someone else. In reality, the goal is to turn the “mistake” into a conversation and, ultimately, a believable connection.

Common premises and tactics used by scammers

Romance scammers have the same goals as other phone scammers: to steal data and money from unwitting targets. However, the process may slightly differ from other robocalls and smishing scams. Familiarize yourself with the premises and tactics romance scammers use so you can keep yourself safe from trouble.

Military deployment

Some romance scammers pose as members of the armed forces, often pretending to be deployed overseas. This provides an automatic excuse as to why they can’t video chat or meet in person, and it creates the opportunity to ask for money to supplement a military stipend or better communicate while you’re apart.

A simple way to tell if someone is really in the military is to have them send you an email from a “.mil” account. Every member of the military has this type of email address, and if they have access to the internet, they should be able to prove it.

Inheritance taxes

A fraudulent love interest might claim to be owed a significant inheritance they can only receive once they’ve married. The inheritance (which may be a large sum of money, jewelry, precious metals, or other valuable items) would sweeten the deal for both sides, and it would set the stage for a prosperous life together. However, in addition to paying for your “fiancée’s” flight to come meet you, you’d have to pay taxes on the inheritance.

It would be great if the love of your life came with a million dollars, but it’s vital to watch out for “too good to be true” situations when online dating. Don’t make binding agreements with or transfer money to anyone whose identity you haven’t comprehensively verified.

Malicious links

Because of the user protections that dating and social media apps offer, a romance scammer may try to direct you somewhere more discreet. Once you’re off the platform, they might send you malicious links that download malware onto your device or send you to fake websites that steal your personal information.

Never click links in dating profiles or unexpected texts or emails, even if you’ve been regularly communicating with the sender online.

Revealing photos

Private personal media is an especially sensitive aspect of romance scams, and there are different ways it can factor in. In one approach, scammers offer revealing photos in exchange for personal information that can be used to compromise your identity. In another, they solicit racy photos to use as blackmail so you’ll meet their demands.

Never send personal information or private photos to those you don’t personally know and trust. If an online dating partner pressures you or makes you feel uncomfortable, you can always block them.

Dating app account verification

Although this type of scam is only romance-adjacent, it still seeks to steal your information via your online dating apps. The scammer calls, texts, or emails you posing as a popular dating app and prompting you to update your information to verify your profile. They may pretend there was suspicious activity on your account or claim it’s a routine fraud-prevention practice. Unfortunately, any information you give them may be used to steal from you.

Verifying accounts on dating apps helps improve security, but only when done legitimately. Dating apps such as  Tinder, Hinge, and OkCupid will never call or text you to verify your profile or ask for sensitive information.

Free 7 day trial
Fight back against spam and reclaim your phone.
You’re one step away from a spam-free phone.
Get Started

The impact of romance scams

Many people take to dating sites and apps in search of a long-lasting connection. Unfortunately, sometimes, that connection can have severe emotional and financial repercussions.

Emotional consequences for victims

Falling victim to a romance scam can take a toll on several levels. You may feel betrayed upon realizing you were tricked by someone who claimed to care about you, which can lead to anxiety, difficulty connecting with people, and a general lack of trust. You may be saddened by the loss of companionship, even if the connection you thought you had was driven by ulterior motives.

To add insult to injury, you might also have to deal with the emotional stress that comes with losing your life savings.

Financial repercussions of romance scams

In many cases, the scammer’s goal from the outset is financial fraud. While some quickly begin requesting money or gift cards, others may lay the groundwork for months before pitching their scam. Even if the scammer doesn’t ask for a lump sum early on, smaller costs can add up quickly.

A romance scammer might ask for funds to supposedly pay for:

  • Travel expenses to visit you
    • Passport, air, or bus travel
  • Devices or services so you can continue to communicate
    • Laptop, cell phone, WiFi
  • Taxes on valuables that have been seized at the airport
    • Family heirlooms, jewelry
  • Marriage expenses
    • Travel, taxes on inheritance
  • Emergencies or medical treatment
    • For the scammer or a family member

Identifying red flags in online relationships

Recognizing red flags is an essential part of dating in general, but the skill is especially mandatory when it comes to online dating. Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of a scam, and be sure to do your due diligence when you meet someone online.

Warning signs of a potential scam

It’s easy to get rosy-eyed when you think you’ve met the person of your dreams, but it’s critical to keep an eye out for red flags. The sooner you recognize the warning signs of a potential scam, the easier it is to snap out of the trance and realize you’re being tricked.

  • Heavy focus on you: A scammer may inundate you with questions as they dig for information they can use to hack your accounts. Avoid sharing details that relate to common security questions, like your mother’s maiden name or your childhood address.
  • Attempts to direct you away from the dating app: Dating apps generally offer users certain protections, so scammers try to lure their targets to a different platform. They may claim it’s “easier” to talk on another app or via text, but they’re really trying to avoid being flagged as a scam threat and banned from the app.
  • Quick pace (love bombing): The sooner you fall for the scammer, the sooner they can move the scheme along. A romance scammer might “love bomb” you, or shower you with compliments, praise, and attention early on. They may also claim they are falling in love with you or believe you’re soulmates.
  • Suspicious images: Note if there’s anything suspicious about the person’s profile pictures or any images they send. Scammers might use pictures of models, blurry or pixelated images, or even shots of different people throughout their profile.
  • No online presence: There’s nothing wrong with being off the grid, but it’s uncommon for someone to have no social media accounts or online profiles. Although a lack of Internet presence is only circumstantial evidence, it’s worth noting.
  • Long distance: Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it also provides excuses for scammers. A long-distance lover may reasonably have a more difficult time visiting you, and they can use cultural differences as a catch-all excuse if you notice any strange behavior.
  • Won’t video chat or meet in person: Simply put, scammers aren’t who they say they are. They can’t video chat or meet face to face, as that would blow their cover. Some romance scammers agree to video chat but claim their camera is broken, while others ask you to finance a visit they never make.
  • Asking for money: Whether directly or indirectly, a scammer’s goal is always to make money. Romance scammers may string you along for weeks or months before they make their move, but they will always try to get something valuable out of you. In many cases, they ask for money to supposedly help continue your relationship or address an emergency. Oftentimes, they ask repeatedly and consistently.

Verifying identities in online dating

Knowing your online match is, in fact, who they say they are can put your mind at ease and help you avoid dangerous situations. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to verify that your romantic interest is legitimate.

  • Check social media profiles
    • Check to see that they have profiles on at least one of the common social media apps (like Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn).
    • View their recent posts to see if they’re legitimate and ensure they line up with what the person has told you about themselves.
  • Inquire about friends and family
    • Ask the person about their social circles and family dynamics.
    • Look for evidence that those people exist.
  • Coworkers or job presence
    • Ask what the person does for a living, what company they work for, and if they have relationships with their coworkers.
    • If they say they’re self-employed, ask for a business website or examples of their work.
  • Reverse image search
    • You can search the person’s profile images (or other images they’ve sent you) to see if they exist elsewhere on the internet.
    • This is especially wise if the person’s images seem inconsistent or suspicious.
  • Suggest video chatting or meeting in person
    • Scammers tend to avoid meeting by video or in person, as the photos on their profiles are often of someone else.
    • If you do make plans to meet in person, tell a friend or family member where you’ll be and consider sharing your location, just to be safe.
Live life spam-call-free®
Sign up for a 7-day free trial

Protecting yourself from online dating scams

Sometimes, you have to be vulnerable and “put yourself out there” when dating. However, that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down entirely. There may be plenty of fish in the sea, but some are catfish — so it pays to be cautious.

Cybersecurity measures in online dating

Stay alert and take the proper safety measures when dipping into the online dating pool.

  • Be careful what you reveal on your profile. Don’t list personal information like your email address or phone number.
  • Don’t accept suspicious requests. If you get a friend request on social media or a potential match on a dating app, check the person’s profile for red flags.
  • Know the warning signs of a scam. Don’t click unexpected links, follow the person to a different app, or give away private information.
  • Never send money, gift cards, or personal information. Romance scammers may ask for wire transfers, gift cards, or private information that can be used to steal from you.
  • Download a scam-blocking app. A trustworthy scam blocker like Robokiller intercepts dangerous scam calls and spam texts, so fraudsters can’t get through to your phone.

How Robokiller can help prevent romance scams

Phone fraud is a serious problem that causes tens of billions of dollars in losses to American consumers every year. Romance scams often move from dating apps to text messages and phone calls, where the original platform can no longer protect you. That’s where Robokiller comes in.

Robokiller blocks calls and texts from scammers. That means if your romantic connection tries to contact you off-platform but can’t get through, then Robokiller has likely identified them as a suspected threat. The app intercepts suspicious calls and texts, so they never have the chance to take advantage of you.

Using a robust algorithm based on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) as well as a global database of over 1.5 billion flagged phone numbers, Robokiller blocks 99% of unwanted scam calls, spam texts, and phone fraud. You can also use our phone number lookup tool to check the numbers of any potential suitors before calling or texting.

Staying safe in the search for love

Finding love may take a leap of faith, but make sure the risks you take are calculated. It’s crucial to stay vigilant and protect yourself from fraudsters looking to manipulate you. Keep the above tips in mind and download Robokiller to bolster your defenses against calls and texts from scammers.

Swipe left on romance scams and protect yourself from phone fraud when you start your free 7-day Robokiller trial today.


What are romance scams, and how common are they?

Like other types of phone scams, romance scams attempt to elicit information, money, and/or gifts from strangers. They often begin on dating apps but may quickly move to text messaging or other platforms. Romance scammers establish a romantic connection with the target before making their pitch. Once they do, they may continue to dig for information or ask for favors for as long as they can get away with it. According to one 2023 survey, 25% of American respondents had fallen victim to a romance scam.

How can I tell if my online relationship is a scam?

Your online relationship might be a scam if your partner claims to live far away, won’t meet in person (or by video chat), or smothers you with excessive flattery early on. You should also beware of suspicious profile images, a lack of online presence, and attempts to direct you away from the dating app. If the person asks you for money, chances are good they’re trying to scam you.

What should I do if I suspect I'm involved in a romance scam?

If you think you may be caught up in a romance scam, stop communicating with the other person. If you’ve shared login credentials (like your Netflix password), update every account that uses those details. Don’t reveal any personal information, and be careful not to click links in messages or profiles. If you have given away identifying information or money, file a police report.

Can Robokiller protect me from romance scams?

Many romance scams begin on a dating app, where the customer support team can monitor for suspicious activity. If the conversation moves from the app to your text messages, however, you’ll need a different kind of support. Robokiller blocks 99% of all texts and calls from scammers, so shady characters from dating apps won’t get through to your phone.

How do scammers manipulate emotions in romance scams?

Emotional manipulation always plays a role in phone fraud, but it’s especially deceitful in romance scams. These schemes convince you you’re in love, a legitimate relationship, or, at the very least, a caring friendship. A romance scammer may mirror your interests, use other people’s photos, and flood you with adoration to quickly establish a bond. Unfortunately, they ultimately break that bond by soliciting money and/or information.

Free 7 day trial
Fight back against spam and reclaim your phone.
You’re one step away from a spam-free phone (and a little poetic justice, thanks to Answer Bots).
Sign up for a 7-day free trial

Featured articles

American Solar scam calls and how to avoid them
January 24, 2024
American Solar scam calls and how to avoid them
Read more
arrow right
Data protection in the digital age: Why it's so important
January 24, 2024
Data protection in the digital age: Why it's so important
Read more
arrow right
How to protect yourself from a cyber attack
January 24, 2024
How to protect yourself from a cyber attack
Read more
arrow right