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For Love or Money—What to Know About 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 was out $2 million. The money she had worked so hard to save to fund a comfortable retirement was gone. And two years later, she still has never met him and continues to process both the financial and emotional hurt he inflicted.

Sadly, the FBI says, this woman’s true story1 is all too common in our digital world. In fact, agents in the FBI’s Internet Crime Compliance Center say so-called romance scams (also known as confidence scams) account for the largest of financial losses across all Internet-facilitated crimes. In recent years, the Federal Trade Commission estimates that nearly 70,000 people each year2 have reported an online dating scam with median losses per person around $4,400.

Online dating 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 five tips to help you identify and outsmart potential romance scammers, and what to do if you are the victim of a romance scam.

1. Go Slow

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." Their intent is to gain the victim’s trust.

Be wary of immediate requests to take your conversation to an email or messaging platform like WhatsApp, Google Chat, or Telegram. Also be skeptical of an online stranger who tries to quickly escalate the seriousness of your relationship or isolate you from friends and family.

2. Guard Your Personal Information

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 where you grew up, 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.” 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.

To chat with a representative or report potential fraud, visit any branch or contact Member Services at (512) 467-8080 or (800) 252-8311.

The saying goes, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Romance scams are a perfect example of this. 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 can use that knowledge to tell you just what you want to hear. It may seem uncanny just how perfect this person is for you.

3. Expand Your Definition of Money

There’s no end to the creative pitches online romance scammers use to cheat you out of money. One way is by asking for expensive favors. “They might ask you to accept a package of cash, gems, and gold and pay the fake “shipping fee” that really goes in their pocket,” says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They might ask for gifts for their kids, for help paying for an airline ticket, or money to cover a medical emergency. In reality, there are no kids, no trips, and no medical emergencies.

The forms of payment that an online romance scammer can use to get your money vary. But cryptocurrency and bank wire transfers are the most common and the costliest. They account for about 60% of losses reported. And, about one-fourth of people who reported losing money to an online scam lost it through gift cards. As the FTC says, just remember that no one legitimate will ask you to send cryptocurrency, wire money, or send gift card numbers.

4. Note When They Don’t Want 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, creative criminals make claims that range from vacationing or even living abroad to being trapped outside their home country and needing help. After establishing a need, they reach out to the intended victim with requests to send gifts or electronics to a foreign address. They often claim not to have enough money to return home or pay for medical bills or resolve their particular situation without assistance. In some cases, after they swindle the victim a first time, they claim the wired funds did not arrive and convince the victim to resend the money. Throughout the interaction, these fraudsters never actually meet their victims. Never send money to a person you’ve never met.

5. Adopt Habits to Protect Yourself

It’s no wonder the US Secret Service advises to be careful what you post online.4 Online dating scammers troll social media using their own fake profiles to find potential scam victims. Posting your personal information about your life, interests, relationships, and personality gives them insight into you and your potential vulnerabilities. You like a certain pro baseball team? So do they. You are an avid hiker? That’s their thing too. Watch for these common red flags:

  • Strangers contacting you claiming to be living abroad; online dating scams often involve people posing as “heroes” working abroad – diplomats, generals, surgeons, for example
  • 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

In addition to being cautious about what you post online, rely on your gut instincts and common sense when interacting online. If something or someone just doesn’t sit quite right, walk away. Pause the conversation, or you may even need to block the individual.

Carefully vet any stranger reaching out on a dating site or your own social media pages. 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.

1, Victim of Romance Scam Tells Her Story
2 Federal Trade Commission, Romance Scammers’ Favorite Lies Exposed
3 Federal Trade Commission, No Love for Romance Scammers in 2024
4, Stay Safe Online: Avoid Romance Scams