Data from the Federal Trade Commission show that more consumers than ever report falling prey to romance scamming, also called “catphishing.” The total reported lost over the past five years has now reached $1.3 billion.

How Do They Do It?

Scammers create fake profiles on dating sites, apps and social media platforms in order to offer relationships and companionship to unsuspecting seniors. They may mention a common friend and/or the same interests or hobbies as you. They say they are lonely and seek companionship. Conversations will be brief and frequent.

Once they feel they have good rapport with you, they will mention financial hardships or they will say they want to travel from afar to meet you, but don’t have the means to do so. They may even say they had been recently scammed online. They will not ask for assistance directly, but will wait for you to offer it.

They will be reluctant at first, but will finally accept your assistance. They will instruct their target to wire money to a bank account, or via Western Union or an online payment service like PayPal. They may also ask for a cashier’s check. One very big red flag is if they ask for gift cards or prepaid credit cards.

The amount they ask for is usually small at first, but soon they will make up some excuse for needing more funds. They will resist meeting in person or even video chatting. They may agree to a phone call, but it will be very brief and rare.

They will continue their scam until the money runs out or until their mark says they are going to inform a family member or friend about the relationship. But by then it may be too late.

Red Flags

• Their profile seems too good to be true.
• They contact you frequently and progress the relationship quickly.
• They make professions of love far too early.
• They live very far away.
• They can’t visit, call, video call or send many pictures.
• They ask for money.
• They require specific payment methods.

Prevention Tips
• Remember that not everything you see online is true.
• Talk about your online relationship with a family member or trusted friend.
• Never give out personal or financial information to someone you have never met in person (email and home addresses, telephone numbers, account numbers and information).
• Ask them to set up a video call, but be very wary of the link they send you. It might redirect you to a site where malware and/or spyware will infect your devices.
• Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.

If you feel you are a victim of a romance scam, contact your local law enforcement agency immediately. Provide them with all the information you have about the scammer, including financial records showing your payments to him or her.

Do not feel ashamed! Anyone can be affected by a romance scam, but sadly, scammers often target the elderly, who may be lonely or struggling to find emotional connection.

Contact me with questions about online security.
Christopher Duque |