Romance scams continue to evolve, in no small part due to social media and the popularity of online dating. With our lives becoming increasingly busy, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic and home ordering, apps for online romance — or casual dating — have blossomed.
Tinder, Grindr, Plenty of Fish, Bumble, Match, and Hinge are some of the most popular apps out there, and each can be a way for scammers to strike.
Romance scams vary, but they all have one of two goals: to steal your money or your information. Scams include:
Outright requests for moneyScammers can start small and even refund you to build trust. However, it wouldn’t be long before they would ask for much more – and then disappear.
Requests may be made, among other things, to buy a flight or a trip to see you, pay customs fees, buy a new laptop or phone to continue communicating with you, pay outstanding medical bills.
Your scammer may also say that he expects a cash gift or an inheritance, so they ask to “borrow” money for a short time.
An emergency or disaster: For some, romance scammer is a full-time job, so spending time building trust with multiple victims is just part of their workday.
Suppose enough of an emotional bond is cruelly created, and then they say there is a sudden emergency. There’s been an accident, they’re in trouble and their physical safety is threatened, or they’re in the hospital with threatening medical bills.
This can create enough panic that the victim sends cash without thinking about it, as the fraudster has already taken the time to build trust.
Members of the military: The military scam is popular. A profile is created using fake images – often the stolen photos of real soldiers – and using military jargon, titles and known military deployment areas to appear more plausible.
They can say they are either about to leave or will return soon and can also try to add some mystery by refusing to give details in the name of confidentiality.
A personal example of a military scam†
I spoke to someone on Tinder in 2019 who said he was part of the US military. At the time, I was fed up with catfish and scammers, so I decided to have some fun and see how long I could last.
My romantic swindler, with photos of only American guys, was apparently based in Afghanistan during deployment, but was due to “come home soon” to the UK.
After switching to a secondary, disposable WhatsApp number, he said he would ask his “commander” for permission to video chat. While I was playing with it, I was sent a video of a soldier saying hello.
I had asked him to put my name in it to prove it was real-time footage. This, of course, did not happen.
The footage was the kind of generic clip you’d find on TikTok, but if you weren’t looking for red flags, it could have been believed to be believable and genuine.
It wasn’t long before he said he was running out of credit, but he really wanted to keep talking to me. So he asked to “borrow” £20 to top up his phone.
How about no.
That wouldn’t have been the end. In my opinion, this request was akin to a test payment you would see if your card details were stolen on your bank statement – where criminals make small requests, no more than a few dollars, to see if a bank account is active and has money.
When it comes to romance scams, a small amount of money can very quickly turn into an avalanche that can financially bury a victim.
Military scams have become so common that the US military has taken care of itself an online fact sheet on these schemes.
“The most common plan is for criminals, often from other countries, especially from West African countries, to impersonate American soldiers serving in a combat zone or other overseas location,” the organization says. “These crooks often show documents and other ‘evidence’ of their financial distress when asking their victims to transfer money to them.”
investments: Last year, Interpol warned that fraudsters encourage their matches to join them in financial ‘enterprises’.
The cybercriminal starts by building trust and giving tips and advice about stocks, shares and investments. They then try to trick their victim into signing up for a bogus financial product, which is normally hosted through a malicious investment app or fraudulent website.
An incentive is essential to make this scam a success. For example, your new love interest can offer you VIP status and personalized instruction in the world of investing.
A victim can then submit their payment card details, which can then be stolen and used by the cyber criminals to make fraudulent purchases. Or they can load cash on a fake platform, only to be banned from the account.
The fraudster blocks them and disappears.
“They are confused, hurt and afraid they will never see their money again,” Interpol noted. Most of the time, victims don’t.
cryptocurrency: Cryptocurrency-related scams are a new twist on older investment scams. Scammers are taking advantage of a general lack of understanding around cryptocurrency to deceive their victims. This may involve signing up for fake cryptocurrency trading apps.
Sophos researchers published an opinion on CryptoRom in 2021, a cybercriminal ring targeting Tinder and Bumble users. Victims lost thousands of dollars after falling prey to this romance scam, and fake cryptocurrency trading apps were promoted not only on these dating apps, but also on social media networks and unsolicited WhatsApp requests.