In today’s world where online dating is increasingly common, not everything — or everyone — is what it seems. Cybercriminals have seized this opportunity to target the vulnerable and unsuspecting for financial gain in sweetheart or romance scams.

Sweetheart scammers prey on those looking to find love via online dating profiles or social media platforms. Victims are typically above 40, have been widowed or divorced, and are looking to get back into the dating world.1 Scammers will disguise themselves by creating a fake profile, often living abroad, with attractive photos and convincing backstories — even stealing the identities of real people — to lure victims. Once the scammer and victim have exchanged a few messages over the dating website or social media, the scammer will often steer the conversation offline in text messages or phone calls to advance both the relationship and their plot.

Not long after regular conversation develops, the scammer will ask for money to pay for an elaborate misfortune — a medical emergency, college tuition, or long-awaited travel expenses to visit the victim. Emotionally invested in the scammer, the victims tend to buy their stories and send scammers hundreds or even thousands of dollars via wire transfer or reloadable cards repeatedly until they finally realize it is a scam.

Sweetheart fraud is considered to be one of the largest and most dangerous scams today, due to the personal relationship that is created and the strong connection the victim feels to the con artist. Over 25,000 people reported being a victim of a sweetheart scam in 20192 and resulting financial losses were the highest of any scam reported to the Federal Trade Commission, costing consumers a total of $201 million — a more than 600 percent increase from 2015.3

Protect your heart — and your wallet

Finding love can be difficult enough without a cybercriminal toying with your emotions to get to your bank account. It’s essential to understand and look for red flags before it’s too late.

  • Asking for money

As a general rule, any online love interest who asks for money is likely a scam artist.

  • Too good to be true

Scammers try to move the relationship along as quickly as possible by professing their love right off the bat. Be cautious that it might not be as real as you think.

  • Foreign residence

Living in a different country is often an excuse used by scammers for not visiting the victim; they often say they are overseas in the military or on business.

  • Luring off of dating sites

Scammers will typically try to persuade their victim to continue their conversation over the phone or text message.

  • Canceled plans to visit

Scammers will ask for funds to visit their victim, but routinely cancel last-minute due to an “unforeseen mishap” or “catastrophe.”

The sweetheart scam is all about moving quickly so individuals don’t have time to stop and think about what is going on. Slow down, take a step back, and think of how the information is lining up before considering the relationship. And, most importantly, never send funds to an online love interest — it is almost always a scam and there is virtually no way to get your money back.

If you’ve fallen victim to a sweetheart scam, notify your financial institution right away, then report your experience to the operator of the website where you met, the FTC, and the FBI. Plus, visit our fraud protection page to learn how APGFCU can help keep you safe!