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For Love and Money: How to Avoid Romance Scams


Like many couples, they had met online, at first simply liking posts on each other’s social media pages. Soon, they were sharing emails and pictures, conversations about their church involvement, their daily lives. So, it seemed harmless when he first asked for her help to pay some expenses to finish up a work project. But, the first ask led to another and another, and soon she had lost thousands of dollars. The money she had worked so hard to save to fund her future was gone. And two years later, she still has never met him and continues to process both the financial and emotional hurt.

Sadly, the FBI says, this woman’s true story is all too common in our digital world. In fact, agents in the FBI’s Internet Crime Compliance Center say so-called romance scams result in the highest amount of financial losses of all internet-facilitated crimes.

Romance scams come in many forms, but they all share a common goal: to quickly gain a person’s confidence and trust, and eventually defraud them of money. Here are some red flags to help avoid becoming the next victim of an unscrupulous “suitor.”

Too Much, Too Soon

When it comes to online dating, whether on a dating site or a personal social media site, slow and steady is the watchword. A new contact may be intriguing and exciting, but don’t let your heart overtake your head. Take things slow, and be guarded in how much personal information you share. Romance scammers are adept at what they do, and time is of the essence for them. Says the FBI: “The scammer’s intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself to the victim, and gain trust.”

Some red flags to watch for include immediate requests to take your conversation to an email or messaging platform outside the dating site. Also be skeptical of an online stranger who tries to quickly escalate the seriousness of your relationship or isolate you from friends and family.

Too Inquisitive

Romance scammers are very skilled at using seemingly innocent conversations to gather information that could be used to hack into your financial accounts. When a new contact is just a little too inquisitive, beware. Something as simple as asking for your birthday, pet’s name, maiden name, or the street you grew up on, which are all commonly used passwords, could give a scammer information they might potentially use against you.

The FBI says, “Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.” And, never share details about your personal finances or account information. Questions about your savings, whether you own your home, an inheritance from a recent family death, and other probes about your finances should be red flags.

Too Perfect

The saying goes, if something is too good to be true, it probably is. That couldn’t be more the case in romance scams. It is a good bet that the scammer researched your public social media accounts long before reaching out the first time. He or she has formed a profile of your interests and lifestyle, and will use that knowledge to tell you just what you want to hear. It may seem uncanny just how perfect this person is for you.

Too Many Excuses to Meet

Consider this the “hurry up and wait” strategy of romance scams. This is a common scenario of how it plays out, according to the FBI: “A criminal claims to be a U.S. citizen living abroad. After a few months of building a relationship with the victim, the actor asks the victim to send gifts or electronics to a foreign address. After a few more months, the actor expresses a desire to return to the U.S. to meet the victim. The actor claims not to have the money to pay for travel and asks the victim to wire funds. In some cases, the actor claims the wired funds did not arrive and asks the victim to resend the money.

“Some actors provide a fake travel itinerary. When they don’t arrive as scheduled, they claim they were arrested, and ask for more money to post bail. They may also request more money for travel or to recover assets seized during their “arrest.” Requests for money may continue until the victim is unable—or unwilling—to provide more.”

Watch out for the following red flags:

  • Requests for any type of financial help, especially if it is from someone you have never met.
  • Requests to help open a bank account, transfer funds, make deposits, etc.
  • Claims of a sudden personal crisis for which financial help is needed.

How to Protect Yourself

First, rely on your gut instincts and common sense. If something or someone just doesn’t sit quite right, walk away. Pause the conversation, or you may even need to block the individual.

Second, carefully vet any stranger reaching out on a dating site or your own social media pages. First, do a reverse image scan of their online photo. That will determine, says the FBI, if the image is being used elsewhere online, and can sometimes link the photo with other scams or victims. To do so:

  • Right click on the image and select “search for image.”
  • Right click again and select “Save image as” to save the photo to your device.
  • Using a search engine, choose the small camera icon to upload the saved image into the search engine.

Scammed? What to Do

If you believe you are the victim of a romance scam, contact the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center at Also contact your local FBI field office. To find your local office, visit

Immediately contact UFCU and any other financial institutions you do business with to report fraudulent activity, and stop or reverse any suspicious transactions.

Be sure to report the account profile name and activity to the site where the contact first initiated.

Consult Our Financial Experts

At UFCU, we are here to empower our Members to achieve their financial dreams from early adulthood through retirement years. Give us a call, or stop by your local financial center anytime to chat with a Personal Financial Representative and learn more.