Romance fraud: scammed by your online sweetheart

Romance fraud, also known as dating fraud, scams victims by making them fall in love with the scammer or giving them (false) hopes of romance. Scammers then exploit their victims' vulnerability by convincing them to transfer money. Victims are made to suffer both financially and psychologically.

How scammers operate

Scammers prepare their scams very carefully. There are three different steps:

1) Getting to know each other

The scammer often approaches the victim through social media such as Facebook or Instagram, but may also turn to dating sites and apps such as Tinder, or use e-mail and chat platforms.

Using a fake profile or stolen identity, they attempt to gain their victim's trust.

While the criminal gets to know the victim, they gather information that may come in handy later on in the scam. They assess the victim's vulnerabilities (is the person lonely and looking for a relationship?), and find out what they could gain from them (what is the victim’s job, their living arrangements, etc.).

2) Reeling in

Next, the scammer gains the victim's trust and plays with their feelings to gradually make them emotionally dependent.

For example, they may share sensitive information about ‘themselves’ at this stage. Presenting this vulnerability manipulates the victim into sharing even more information, such as their income, address, and savings. The criminal may ask to borrow a small amount of money, which they quickly repay to show how ‘trustworthy’ they are.

Slowly reeling in the victim can take several weeks or months.

3) Sudden emergency

Once the victim trusts the scammer and has developed feelings for them, the scammer quickly exploits this situation to ask for money. There’s often a ‘crisis’ that requires quick cash to cover, say, medical expenses for a sick family member. Other examples include the scammer’s payment platform supposedly not working, just as they want to buy a plane ticket to ‘finally’ visit the victim.

Those who refuse to pay may be blackmailed with information or compromising material, or persuaded to provide ‘just a little bit’ in advance.

Once money has been sent in response to the emergency, the scam has succeeded. The scammer may try to extract more money from the victim, but they will soon vanish into thin air. Fake accounts are deleted and the scammer is gone without a trace.

How to prevent romance fraud

  • Stay vigilant when sharing personal data on social networking and dating sites.
  • Always watch out when getting to know someone online: go slow and ask questions.
  • Look out for any spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, and look for contradictions in their story and excuses like their camera not working.
  • Check if the person's photo and profile turn up anywhere else online. Tip: Stolen photos are often reused. You can search for photos using Google Images: click on the camera icon in the search bar to upload the photo of the person you’re talking to online.
  • Never send any compromising material such as nude photos.
  • Beware of requests for money: never send money or provide your credit card or bank details.

What should you do if you get scammed?

Cut off all contact with the scammer and file a complaint with the police.
If you have transferred money, call Secure4u immediately on 016 432 000. This service is
available 24/7.