6 Red Flags You’re Dealing with a Romantic Scammer (and What to Do Next)

You’ve heard of catfishing and ghosting, but apparently, a new online dating scheme is making finding a partner on the apps more difficult: romance scams. In a romance scam, a person will target someone looking for love before pressuring them for money. 

A great example is The Tinder Swindler, a Netflix documentary about Simon Leviev, a conman who emotionally manipulated women to give him more than $10 million combined. But this isn't a one-off situation: According to the FBI, roughly 24,000 people lost about one billion combined in 2021 to romance scams (an 80 percent increase since 2020, FYI). It seems that these scammers have no problem burning a hole in your pocket and your heart.

But that doesn't mean folks looking to make a genuine connection with someone should give up on online dating. We reached out to an expert that knows a thing or two about love frauds: Nev Schulman. The host and executive producer of Catfish has partnered with Zelle to help people spot a romance scammer from a mile away. Here are six signs, according to Schulman, that you're dealing with a romance scammer—and what you should do if you encounter one.

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6 Signs You Might Be Dealing with a Romantic Scammer 

1. If they say, "It's an emergency." 

"Romance scammers weave all sorts of believable stories to con people, but their old standby involves pleas for help while claiming one financial or health crisis after another," says Schulman. From being in an accident to having a very sick relative, scammers are quick to make an "emergency" up that requires a very specific amount of money. It becomes even more apparent it’s a scam if the scammer pressures you for the money consistently and starts guilt-tripping you into following their orders. Simply put: "Don’t let anyone rush you into making a payment,” Shulman stresses. “Urgency is a clear and consistent scammer strategy." 

2. Their stories and background aren’t matching up. 

The Tinder Swindler was able to create fake personas—business partners, security guards and wealthy parents—to lure women to trust him. It's easy to develop a character, but if there are too many plot holes in their story, don't take a chance playing along. If the situation seems fishy, put on your detective hat and look into specific details they claim to be true. Schulman recommends searching for the type of job the person claims to have or doing a reverse image search to see if they actually exist. 

3. They start blackmailing you.

Romance scammers do a great job at building trust and using it to their advantage. They might start holding private and personal things (i.e. pictures, videos, information) over your head in exchange for money. Scammers have no problem threatening and/or extorting you to get what they want, so it’s crucial that you never give personal information to anyone, especially someone you just met on the internet. 

4. They rope you into money laundering.

While some scammers might not ask you for money right away, they can still rope you into illegal financial behavior. These types of money fraud can lead you into dangerous waters. Victims that fall into these schemes are often labeled the “money mule” for illegally transferring or moving money on behalf of someone else, so again, even if a scammer isn’t asking you for money directly, be very wary about any financial help or transactions they ask for you to be a part of.  

5. They steal your personal information.

Phishing—the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies to make individuals reveal personal information like passwords and credit card numbers—is another go-to tactic for scammers. "No bank will ever call or email you for your information—so don’t give it out," Schulman notes. "Only send money to those you know and trust. [Apps like] Zelle shouldn’t be used to pay strangers." One click can have them tapping into your personal information, so be cautious about what links a potential romantic interest is sending you.

6. You've never met or spoken to them.

If you never actually met them in person or spoken on the phone over FaceTime or Zoom, it's time to be skeptical. Don't let excuses like "Well, I'm far but if you help me with my travel expenses to see you..." fool you. 

What to Do If You Think You’re Dealing with a Romantic Scammer

You’ve seen the signs and you’re pretty sure you’re dealing with a scammer. Yikes. There are a few major things to do now: First, report them so that no one has to go through the same issues as you. Also keep records of all the red flags you’ve noticed, as that information could be used to get them caught. Don’t just flag their account to the dating app or website, but to law enforcement as well. 

Remember to continue to stay vigilant when you’re online dating and know that you're not alone if you ever come across a romantic scammer. Always let family and friends know what's going on or check out programs (like Zelle's) that support individuals impacted by these scams. Also, watch out for techniques like love bombing, or attempting to influence a person by over-the-top demonstrations of attention and affection, Schulman tells us. "Romance scammers will often ‘love-bomb’ you with affection and then wait for the perfect moment to fabricate an urgent situation requiring money that pulls at your heartstrings. As technology advances and online dating continues to be the main way people first meet one another, it's more important than ever for people to take a step back and evaluate why someone is pressuring you to give them something, especially money." 

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Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...