Romance Scams

While the internet has made it easier to find love and connections, it has provided a fertile ground for romance scams. These scams, sometimes known as “sweetheart scams” or “catfishing”, happen when scammers create fake online personas in an attempt to establish a romantic relationship with a victim. Their goal is to exploit a victim’s emotions and manipulate them into believing the romance is real which leads to both financial and psychological harm for the victim.

The Anatomy of Romance Scams

A Fake Identity: Scammers will often create attractive and seemingly genuine profiles on dating websites and social media platforms. They will use stolen, edited, or AI-generated photos and build out profiles to trick victims into believing they are a real person.

Building Emotional Connections: A scammer will target a victim and attempt to engage in online conversations to build a sense of trust and connection. He or she may appear eager to get to know their victim and oftentimes these conversations are filled excessively with compliments, affection, and declarations of love to get a victim on the hook. Scammers will also talk about future plans together, like getting married or starting a family. This phase of the scam can last weeks or even months which further convinces the victim that the relationship is legitimate.

Woman looking at a cell phone, with cartoon hearts emanating from the device

"Never send money to someone you’ve met online no matter the reasons they provide."

Message thread from an unknown number

Request to Move Off the Platform: It is common for scammers to request a victim, typically early on and with some urgency, to move to other messaging platforms where accounts can be created with minimal verification. This makes it easier for scammers to avoid being traced. Scammers may try to isolate their victims from family and friends by encouraging them to keep their love a secret while simultaneously discouraging them from seeking advice or support.

The Vanishing Act: After obtaining money or sensing that a victim is growing suspicious, scammers will abruptly cut contact by ignoring messages, blocking the victim, and even deleting their fake online profile leaving the victim confused, heartbroken, and financially damaged. This tactic is used to evade consequences or legal actions and allows them to reset to begin a new fraudulent relationship with another victim.

Protecting yourself from romance scams is about maintaining a healthy level of skepticism and not rushing into emotional or financial commitments with someone you have only met online. Romance scammers are often well practiced and very skilled at what they do - if something seems too good to be true, it likely is.


  • Individuals are overly affectionate too soon.

  • Inconsistencies in the person’s story, asking for financial help or money to invest, and a reluctance or inability to meet in person.

  • Insisting that you help them - by sending cryptocurrency, giving the numbers on a gift card, or by wiring money.


  • If you have suspicions that the person you are talking to is a romance scammer, immediately block them and do not engage further.

  • Check the person’s photos with a reverse image search online. These photos are often stolen or edited and may be found in other places.

  • If you think it's a scam, report it to the FTC at Notify the social networking site or app where you met the scammer, too.