Who are these romance scam victims?
How to Avoid a Sweetheart Scam
With a sweetheart scam, an individual online woos someone and then uses the emotional bond to extort money from that person. The term "sweetheart scam" is most often used when older people are the victim, but younger people can fall sway to these fraudsters as well. to avoid a sweetheart scam, approach online relationships with caution and keep personal information away from strangers. If you or someone you love is involved in an online relationship that you believe is fraudulent, contact authorities immediately.
Controlling Your Information
Limit your use of social media.The more "out there" you are on social media, the more opportunities scammers have to attempt to extort you. Only open social media accounts that you plan to use regularly.
- If you find that you seldom use a social media account, take steps to deactivate or fully delete the account. You don't want to leave that information out there for people to access.
- Older social media accounts can give scammers personal information about you, such as things that happened in your past, that they can use to get close to you. Often a sweetheart scammer will try to convince you that they are safe by saying they know someone from your past, or that they know things about you that you think they wouldn't know unless you had been acquainted at some point.
Learn and use privacy settings.All social media platforms have privacy settings that you can control to limit access to your information. Before you set up a social media account, study these settings carefully and make sure you understand how they work.
- Many social media platforms, such as Facebook, give you the opportunity to "test" your privacy settings by seeing how your page or certain posts will look to a stranger or to certain friends or followers. Make use of this preview function to make sure your privacy settings are correct.
- You may need to help children or elderly loved ones adjust their privacy settings so that strangers don't have access to information they shouldn't.
Only "friend" people you actually know.In the world of online dating this can be difficult, but at least on social media it's important to limit your "friends list" only to people who you've actually met in real life.
- Most social media platforms that have a friends list also have a "follow" function, where people you don't know can follow your account and read public posts. Encourage people who you don't know to use that feature.
- Kids and elderly people may be more vulnerable to adding someone who seems like a kind stranger. Kids get excited if someone seems interested in them, and elderly people may be lonely and appreciate connecting with someone who seems interesting and caring.
- If you are caring for children or for elderly relatives, review their friends lists regularly. Engage them in conversation about names with which you're not familiar, and ask them how they met. They should delete or remove people they don't know, unless someone else they know can vouch for that person.
Keep overly personal information off the internet.Even if you've restricted your friends list solely to people you know and have strict privacy settings, you still should avoid putting any information on your profile that could allow someone to gain more information about you or even steal your identity.
- Be especially cautious when "checking in" to locations, especially if you're on vacation. Sometimes the check-in information can become public, such as if you tag a public place. Additionally, it puts people on notice of your present location.
- You should never put information such as your phone number, full birth date, driver's license, or other government identification numbers (such as your Social Security number) on an online profile. Scammers can use this information to uncover other details about your life, which they can use to convince you that they actually know you somehow and they are safe.
Approaching Online Relationships
Connect with locals who you can meet.If you want to try online dating, restrict your matches to a relatively small geographic area. Do not match or talk to anyone that lives far enough away that meeting up with them is not an easy option.
- Keep in mind that scammers may use your location to fake their own. Be diligent about questioning them to determine whether they actually live near you. Talking about local news is a good way to do this. Focus on small, community-based stories or points of interest that aren't all over the internet.
- Vague questions or statements about the season also can help you identify a scammer or otherwise dishonest person. For example, you might say "Weren't the cherry blossoms downtown beautiful this year?" If the person agrees with you, but there aren't any cherry trees in your town, they're probably not being truthful about their location.
Search your suitor's full name.With online dating, anyone interested in you may not give you their full name right away. However, if you've talked for a while and made a connection, they should be willing to give you this information.
- Once you have their full name, type it into your favorite search engine surrounded by quotation marks. Click through the results that follow to learn more about the person. You can also compare the web results and images that come up against anything the person has said to you.
Talk to their friends.Looking at someone's social media profiles can be a good way to check into their background and figure out if they're a legitimate person or if they're trying to lure you into a sweetheart scam.
- See if they have photos of themselves with friends in which they've tagged the other person. See if that other person is listed among their friends.
- Check their friends' interactions on their posts. Do these people seem to actually know them, or does their profile read more like a fan page? Consider it a red flag if they don't have any pictures of them with other people on their profile and their friends don't directly interact with them on a personal level.
Do an image search of their photos.Scam artists often try to lure victims by stealing photos from a gorgeous model or celebrity and claiming they are selfies. You can search by image on all major search engines to see if these photos appear elsewhere on the internet.
- This may be the easiest way to determine if someone is using pictures that aren't really them. Scam artists typically don't go to a lot of effort to find pictures to use, so it isn't that difficult to uncover the fraudulent behavior if you're willing to do a few minutes of legwork.
- Simply right-click on the photo to copy it, then paste it into your search bar. Review the results to see if any identical matches come up.
Be wary of people who don't want to meet in person.Especially on dating sites, people typically are looking to meet up and actually date someone in person. If you encounter someone who doesn't want to meet up, or always makes excuses, they may be trying to scam you.
- Keep in mind that people can be legitimately busy. At the same time, if someone has no time to meet up with a potential date, you might question why they have a profile on a dating site.
- You also should be wary of people who aren't willing to meet in a public place, or at a reasonable hour. Out of concern for your own safety, you always should meet an online date for the first time in a public place, preferably when it's still daylight.
Stay within the confines of the site or app where you met.Most dating sites and apps have robust security and privacy features that are designed to protect you from scammers or predators. Be wary of someone who attempts to lure you off the site or app.
- If you choose to communicate with the person outside the app before you meet with them in person, use a secure texting service that won't reveal your phone number.
- Avoid giving someone you haven't met in person your phone number. They can use it to gain information about you that you might not want them to know, and they can use this information to scam you.
- Additionally, if the person does turn out to be a scam artist, you typically have the ability to block them on most dating sites and apps. Once blocked, they will never be able to see or contact you again. However, if you give them your phone number, you may have to change your phone number to keep them from contacting you.
Refuse to send money for any reason.The hallmark of a sweetheart scam is that the person will claim to be in love with you, or foster your emotional attachment, and then request money to help them deal with some hardship or trauma in their life.
- Sweetheart scammers prey on the generosity and caring nature of people they've seduced or befriended. They will tell you a lengthy and often complicated sob story of something terrible that has happened to them, and request assistance.
- You may feel bad refusing to help them, but you can simply say "I'm sorry, but I don't feel I know you well enough to send you money at this point. I wish you luck in dealing with your financial difficulties and am here to support you emotionally." If the person gets angry after that, or continues to try to pressure you into sending them money, you can be sure that they're just trying to scam you.
- Be especially wary of people who want you to send them money using a wire service or other untraceable money transfer service. If you send them money through one of these services, you typically won't be able to get it back.
Visit your local police station.In most cases, your scammer will not be local. However, if you have been scammed or if someone has attempted to scam you, the first place you visit should be your local police station.
- Even if the local police can do little to go after the scam artist, you may need a copy of the police report to file reports with other law enforcement agencies.
- Go in person and bring copies of any communication you've had with the person you believe is trying to scam you. Tell the officer at the information desk that you want to file a police report.
- When you are interviewed by an officer to complete a police report, provide detailed information about the scam artist and your communications with that person. Some details may be embarrassing for you to admit, but everything is important to help authorities bring the scammer to justice.
- Make sure you get a copy of the written report in case you need it later.
Report the person to the website.Every social media or dating platform allows you to report unsavory characters or potential scam artists for a violation of the platform's terms of service. If a violation is found, the person's profile will be removed from the platform.
- When filling out your report, make sure you provide as many details as possible about your interaction with the person. Even though some of it may be embarrassing, don't leave anything out.
- Provide your contact information so the platform can get in touch with you if they need additional information.
- In addition to reporting the person, don't forget to block them from your account. Many platforms will ask you if you want to report the person when you block them.
File a complaint with the federal authorities.In most countries, federal law enforcement is tasked with monitoring and prosecuting criminal activity that occurs on the internet. In the United States, these crimes are investigated by the FBI.
- If you want to file a complaint with federal law enforcement in the United States, visit and follow the prompts. Make sure you have gathered all the information you need to provide on your report before you start.
- If you're located outside the United States, your local law enforcement may be able to tell you what you need to do to file a report with national authorities. Otherwise, you can find this information through a quick internet search for "online crime" or "online scam" with the name of your country.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).If you live in the United States, you can report a sweetheart scam to the FTC. The FTC collects data about online scams, and uses it to identify patterns and issue regulations to help prevent scams.
- To file an online complaint with the FTC, visit the FTC's Complaint Assistant at .
- Click on the "scams and rip-offs" category and follow the prompts. Review the information you submit to make sure it is complete and accurate before you submit it.
- Although you do not have to provide your contact information, doing so will allow the FTC to reach you if they need more information. Keep in mind that the FTC does not investigate or resolve individual complaints.
Video: How to Avoid a Romance Scam
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