Sweetheart scams, also known as romance scams, are becoming increasingly common as people seek out connections online. The FTC reports that Americans lost over $209 million to sweetheart scams in 2019 — which is 40% more than reported the previous year.
Sweetheart scammers seek out their victims online, through social media or dating websites. While people over 40 reported a higher frequency of being targeted and higher losses than younger demographics, these scams target everyone. In fact, sweetheart scams are becoming more common on social media platforms like Instagram and Tik-Tok.
What Are Sweetheart Scam Red Flags?
The most important line of defense against fraud is awareness. Watch out for these red flags:
- They profess love quickly, before you even meet.
- They want to take the conversation to text or email instead of the social or dating platform.
- Their answers to your questions are inconsistent.
- There’s a convincing reason why they can’t meet or video chat.
- Scammers tend to claim occupations that require living or working in remote areas or outside of the United States, such as working on an oil rig, in the military, or a doctor working with international organizations.
- There’s an emergency and they need money wired (or sent via gift card) right away.
- They send you a check to deposit and ask you to send them back a portion through a cash app or gift cards — also known as a Fake Check Scam. The check comes back as fraudulent and you’re left paying fees and they’re long gone with your money. New versions are being reported where they send an electronic deposit from a hacked bank account, which is later marked as unauthorized.
- They pressure you for personal information like your SSN, credit card information, or Online Banking credentials.
What Should I Do If I Suspect I’m Being Scammed?
- Never transfer money from your bank account, wire money, buy gift cards, or share personal information with an online love interest.
- Stop communicating with them immediately.
- Do a Google reverse image search on their profile pictures — if they’re associated with someone else or the details don’t match, it’s a scam.
- Search online for details about their story — it will probably turn up similar scams (ex: oil rig scammer).
- Talk with someone you trust — the feelings of a new relationship can cloud your perception of the red flags. Pay attention to concerns your friends or family have about your new love interest.
- Report them to the FTC, as well as well at the social or dating platform you met them on.
Someone I Know is Being Scammed — How Can I Help Them?
It’s important to be supportive and understanding. People get embarrassed about being scammed, and since romance scams rely on emotional manipulation, it can be an especially difficult and painful realization that they are a fraud victim.
Share your concerns about their new love interest, and spread awareness by sharing any information you have — the FBI and FTC have excellent resources. It may also be helpful to provide stories from real people so your friend understands they are not alone. AARP is a great resource for articles and podcasts that bring a personal touch to fraud stories.