This Valentine’s Day, don’t let rose tinted glasses get you scammed

Chantal Swainston

Elaine had been messaging her long distance boyfriend David for 6 months when he ran into financial difficulties. David’s successful property business needed to secure a loan for a new apartment, but the bank was being too slow. He needed funds fast. 

Elaine knew she had to support David, and didn’t think twice about sending her savings. After all, he more than had the means to repay her, and she loved him too much to see him panicking about money…

But after she sent the first payment, David’s attitude changed. He spoke to her less, but demanded more. Assuming it was the stress, Elaine continued to support David with more payments until one day, her bank called… her money had bounced and it seemed David’s bank account had been closed. After frantic investigation, and no contact from David, Elaine slowly realised she’d been scammed.

There is never a good way to be scammed out of your savings, but romance scams hit victims particularly hard. Whether it’s sending transfers directly, or buying expensive gifts, it’s easy to lose a lot of money along the way. There’s also the loss of a potential relationship with someone who you believed was real. There’s a mix of humiliation, heartbreak and then the cold reality that your money or gifts will never be returned.

Scammers will stop at nothing to steal from their victims, and in a digital world where many find love online, romance scams can affect anyone. It’s important to not let your feelings cloud your judgement in these cases, and to look out for the warning signs…

Be wary of people who want to create a very close bond too quickly:

Romance scammers will use your emotions to convince you to help them out of difficulty. By creating a strong bond quickly, the guilt they can create is much stronger. Victims are far more likely to feel compelled to help. 

If you are chatting to someone online, they may try to move communications to phone calls and texts in a matter of hours. They may tell you they’ve “never felt like this before” or that they know “you’re the one” after just a few days. They will ask lots of questions about your personal life, and try to fast track the relationship to something strong as quickly as they can. 

If something is moving too quickly and doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts. While eagerness in online dating isn’t automatically the sign of a scam, it could be a warning sign to monitor while getting to know someone.

Research new romances:

You shouldn’t have to play detective to find love these days, but unfortunately online dating makes it easy for scammers to pretend to be people they’re not. If you want to be sure the person you’re speaking to is who they say they are, you can research them on social media.

Little to no online presence can be a warning sign, as can social profiles that have only been active for a short while, or have very little content.

You can also use a reverse image search on Google to see if their photos have been posted online in other locations. Fake profiles aren’t always obvious, but it’s a good step to follow to make sure you’ve done your research before getting too invested.

Don’t send money to anyone you meet online:

It might sound obvious, but sending money to anyone you’ve met online and don’t know in person carries a huge risk.

Romance scammers will fabricate a convincing relationship, and deliver a convincing story to secure your money. Whether it’s helping them with a personal finance dilemma, paying for them to finally visit you in person, or even threatening to make your conversations public if you don’t pay.

There’s a range of methods scammers will use to get your money and the best advice we can give is to not send it. This goes for cash, bank transfers, getting them a credit card in your name or sharing other financial details. If the person is truly interested in a relationship, and not just money, they’ll find another way to solve their problem. In a world where so many couples meet online, the rise of romance scams is only set to increase as scammers take advantage of people looking for love. 

While it’s perfectly possible to use online dating sites safely, you should remain vigilant if things don’t feel right.

Some ‘red flags’ can cost you a lot more than others.

Money for here, there and everywhere

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