The dating scams industry is complicated, so we’ve got you covered with an informed report including trends, statistics, new technology, stories, and more.
Online dating scams have grown exponentially in the previous decade, with thousands of people becoming victims of this ruthless scam.
We found it essential to keep you educated and created a report covering the entire topic, laying out the key, helpful facts.
There are so many trends to keep up with, as scammers are always coming up with new strategies. Yet, they generally use the same tactics every day.
To keep you safe, we’ve built a report to keep you well-informed about the nasty scammers. This report covers the trends, statistics, news, and technology of all things romance scams.
It can seem complicated to remain safe from online dating scammers, but the concept isn’t that intricate in reality. You just need to be aware, ask questions, and never send money — ever.
Most Common Dating Scam Trends in 2021
They Use Stolen Profile Photos
Romance scammers typically do not communicate by phone or video, so they attempt to make the profile as convincing as possible.
However, they always miss something. The most common mistake is the profile photo that is used. Commonly, they steal images from the internet and claim that person’s identity.
They’ll likely change the name, career, and a few other details, though. Social Catfish reports that this is a trend as expected and recognizes that using a reverse image search feature is helpful.
We cover this strategy a little later in this report. The scammers favor exotic photos, but they’re now starting to use images of men and women that probably do not feature in beauty contests.
This is why the reverse image search feature is so helpful, but it should never be the primary method of determining someone’s legitimacy.
They Say They’re In The Military
Online dating scammers love to claim that they’re in the US military, as that typically brings out a little vulnerability in their victims.
Despite this, men and women in our armed forces do not have time to chat when they’re deployed. If he says that he’s stuck in a country and needs to get back to his base, it’s a scam.
The military will always assure the safety and security of its soldiers under any circumstances.
If he tells you that he’s a retired vet traveling the world, or perhaps he’s bunkered down in Italy to experience new territory, then this is likely a scam too.
We’ve covered this topic here and can safely say that a genuine soldier will not demand you for your SSN, personal banking info, or your money. Do not make an exception!
The United States Military has even responded to this issue. They state that it’s not uncommon to be asked to send money to the scammers to ‘buy leave” or for null medical matters.
They Use These Keywords
English is the primary language used by romance scammers. However, it’s broken English at best in most cases.
This inevitably causes the scammer to fail at using English grammar correctly. Most of them attempt to steal your heart within the first week or two by using certain keywords.
Falling in love within a week is extremely rare, and if it does honestly occur, it’s still critical to be careful.
You should be aware of “buzzwords” like:
Sure, those keywords do not always mean scam. But they’re common amongst the scammers, so be cautious if you run across someone speaking with those words.
If you are ever asked to go off the site to continue the communication, stay vigilant. Zoosk themselves have reported on this very issue; read here.
Dating Scam Statistics for 2021
You Could Be Implicated in a “Money Mule” Crime without Even Knowing It
According to the Better Business Bureau, over 30% of all dating scams involve some type of money mule scam.
This scam isn’t only dangerous because you could lose your own money, but because it can land you in jail, even if you had honest intentions.
The money mule scam essentially means that you’re the middle man — receiving illegal money.
After you have the money wired into your account, you send it to someone else, who then sends it back to the scammer, erasing the scammer’s tracks from the funds.
The FBI acknowledged, “Acting as a money mule is illegal and punishable, even if you aren’t aware you’re committing a crime.”
The FTC also shared a helpful sheet that explains the big picture.
Image Source: FTC
Nevertheless, this means that if you’re not careful enough, you could serve up to ten to twenty years in prison for an innocently-intentioned act.
It should be no shock that being smart is extremely important here. A simple slip up could cost you years of your life, all from something preventable.
Furthermore, the FTC states:
- Keep your money to yourself. Never agree to move money for someone who contacts you, even if they promise a relationship, job, or prize. You could lose money and get in legal trouble.
- Pass on this information to a friend. You may see through these scams. But chances are you know someone who could use a friendly reminder.
According to CNN, “These accounts were allegedly opened under various aliases in order to obscure the source of the fraudulently obtained funds.”
It’s vital to stay vigilant, especially now that online dating is trending more than ever.
Most Dating Scams Originate in Nigeria
It’s hard to zone in exactly where these scammers live. However, we can still look at a few reports and make a broadly educated guess.
The best way to do this is by using tactics such as grammar usage, accents, local currencies, and more.
According to CNN, there have been multiple reports of romance scam incidents from Nigeria.
They’ve also shared a graph showing the upwards trend in romance scams from 2015 through 2019.
Image Source: CNN
The surprising fact, though, is that most of those scams originate from Nigeria. While there are undoubtedly other locations with many online dating scammers, Nigeria definitely takes the cake.
There is certainly no way to make their actions reasonable, but we suspect this is due to the poorer living conditions in some areas of Nigeria.
You should also know that Nigeria has “underground” call centers too, which we suspect to be similar to this, and schools to train the scamming amateurs; it’s quite literally a profession.
DatingAdvice says, “Seeking Arrangement and TC LogiQ, a background-screening company, reviewed 60,000 banned profiles to see what they have in common and found 28% were based in Nigeria, 23% in the Ukraine, and 21% in the Philippines.”
The Most Targeted Age is 60
Romance scammers typically have a distinct target age that they aim for the most. The age varies with each country, but in general, women in their 60’s and older are the primary victims.
Next Avenue states that some romance scams that involve drug trafficking target women with an average age of 65.
Furthermore, they say that Sunmola, a Nigerian citizen, has scammed over 30 women out of their money by using extravagant tactics to convince them that he was legitimate.
They also mention the popular money mule scam, which essentially means the victim is only the middleman in a much larger, illicit scam; the FTC talks about this big problem in great detail.
In short, the victim “cleans’’ the money by sending it to another bank, and it is returned to the scam artist, making it harder for the feds to track him down.
The News of Dating Scams
The number of online dating scammers is well into the hundreds of thousands, yet not all of them face jail or prison time.
Most do not attempt to scam while residing in the United States, mainly due to our exceptional cybersecurity measures making it easier to trace and track US-based scammers down.
However, because most romance scams originate outside of the US, commonly in third world countries, it’s often complicated to track them down. It’s also generally more challenging to get the local feds involved.
While there is no database for official numbers of those convicted, we can safely estimate it to be between ten to twenty thousand.
Consumer Fraud Reporting does share a few stats of multiple scammers who have been convicted of their mischievous crimes, but this is the closest we can get for now.
How Much Money Is Taken Every Year
It can be mind-boggling to peak at the sheer amount of money taken from unsuspecting individuals. If we look at the average amount taken, it’s roughly $2600 before any foul play is suspected.
This amount isn’t catastrophic, but that’s just the average; it can and regularly climbs much higher.
According to the FBI, victims of romance scams saw a staggering loss of over $475 million in 2019.
They proceed to say that over 20,000 incidents were reported in that year alone, not to mention the many romance scams that never actually get properly reported.
An even more distressing fact is that at least one thousand of those victims each lost over a million dollars.
The FBI also states:
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
- Go slow and ask questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to go “offline.”
These tips are fundamental to avoiding these ruthless scams.
Some Victims Get Married
Most dating scams are initiated and finished online. However, some dating scams can lead to marriage. We’ve covered this topic here, which is a widespread scam in Asian countries.
Essentially, the woman “grooms” the man over time and attempts to not ask for much.
After the scammer feels comfortable that she has groomed the victim enough, she invites him to live with her in her home country.
Once a few weeks have passed, she’ll recommend that they get married. Despite this, the resulting marriage will be illegitimate. The scammer likely has several other victims as well.
Though it may be rare for romance scams to go this far, it’s very possible.
It can be hard to determine someone’s legitimacy like this, so it’s best to avoid it altogether. If not, educate yourself and understand the risk.
Most Common Tech Approaches Used
Popular Websites & Apps
Among online dating scams, some websites and apps are favored by scammers. A major reason is due to inadequate spam detection systems in the websites and apps themselves.
Apps such as Tinder require phone authentication for the account to be approved, leaving it nearly useless for most scammers.
Some do not have these basic security features, however, leaving innocents vulnerable to scams. Her, an online dating app meant for lesbians, has had its share of problems.
According to Social Catfish, the app has seen an upwards trend of romance scams, specifically by loss of money, blackmail, and more.
To avoid this, find an online dating website or app that requires a phone number to open an account; or at least a requirement to connect a social media account.
Romance scammers typically do not need to worry about being traced since they often reside in a third world country with a poor government.
However, many of them attempt to stay anonymous anyway by using specific internet protocols, such as VPNs, proxies, and firewalls, just to name a few.
Some of them are even associated with using the TOR browser, initially made for the US government to stay anonymous.
They may go so far as to hack into another person’s computer and do their dirty work from the background, making it harder for them to be tracked down by the feds.
Although quite a few of them do this, many do not; and end up in jail, especially if they do it more than once or twice.
Cleaning The Money
The money taken from the victims can be tracked by the feds if transferred via a bank.
Unfortunately, most online dating scammers will request that the money is sent via Moneypak cards, which is essentially a gift card.
This makes it much harder for the feds to track them down, as they can simply cash out the cash pack.
This isn’t the only thing they do to stay anonymous, though; they even use bitcoin to their advantage.
Bitcoin gives users extreme amounts of anonymity, too, allowing the scammer to run without leaving any tracks. The WSJ covers why they favor bitcoin here.
How You Can Stay Protected in 2021
Be Cautious With Which Apps You Use
Most apps do not require any type of authentication to sign up for an account. This makes it very easy for scammers to create new accounts after the service has suspended them.
These apps ban VOIP numbers, so the only way you can sign up is by inputting a number connected to an actual service, such as Verizon or AT&T.
Many apps also have automation, which means that the app has fake profiles made by the dev team. Read the terms of service to check if the app uses this; Bumble and Tinder do not.
This is common among apps that aren’t popular, but this makes it harder to determine a fake profile from a scammer from one by a legitimate person.
Use Google Image Search
Although the scammer’s legitimate image is used in some cases, especially for marriage scams, most are fake or stolen.
To avoid being scammed yourself, take advantage of Google’s reverse image search feature. This will allow you to upload any photo you’d like and search for it online.
MobiPicker shares a great example of what you can expect when using Google’s neat feature.
Image Source: MobiPicker
It’s not a bulletproof method, mainly because more photos may pop up than you’d expect. With a little research, though, you may find what you’re looking for.
To determine if the photo is legit, upload, and search the image. Then, look for any other names attached to the picture; if you see other names attached to the photo, it’s probably stolen.
Yet, if you see another account with the same name connected to the image, this is a good sign.
However, not everyone has social media, so this should not be the only method you use, but it’s a good start!
Pay Attention To Their Grammar
Romance scammers are rarely American, though it can happen. Most online dating scammers reside in countries such as Nigeria, Indonesia, or other third world countries.
This means that they likely have very broken English or a noticeably low ability to type in English.
It’s not all about the grammar, but the way they use English. Most romance scammers use applications such as Grammarly to fix their typing mistakes.
However, something that Grammarly does not do is fix the phrasing of the sentences. You may be sent a reply such as, “My mother has been in a terrible accident, and we will be homeless!’
That is way too straightforward to be legitimate, and it has a passive call to action in the “and we will be homeless.” It’s critical to pay attention to grammar, but especially the phrasing.
Although, sometimes, the mistakes are purposeful.
According to josephsteinberg.com: “The answer is simple – those “errors” are not mistakes; they are intentionally included by design.”
Ask Them Questions
It can be attractive to implement tools to lower your chances of becoming a romance scam victim. Overall, the best way to avoid it is simply by asking questions.
Scammers often have a script, either in their head or on paper, that they use to prey on victims. They think they’ve thought of everything beforehand, but this is not true.
If they claim to be an American, ask them where they live and what they like to do in their city. If they say “I love to visit the museum,” ask them if they went to the showing last week.
If they say yes, but there was no show, it’s likely a scam or a lie; both scenarios are not worth your time. The general idea is to ask questions in a relaxed, casual way to get them to slip up.
Eventually, if the person is a scammer, they’ll answer very incorrectly on one thing or another.
Request A Video Call
Disregarding the Skype scam, online dating scammers will never video call you. If they did, they’d look different and probably not have the mother tongue of English that they claim to have.
Not everyone likes to video call, though, so the next best thing to do if they deny is to pay attention to their excuse; if it’s a one-time thing, that’s fine.
However, if this continues for a few weeks, then this is a huge red flag. It’s an even more giant red flag if they claim not to have a webcam of any kind.
Most smartphones have webcams, and nearly all laptops do, so it’s probably a scam if they claim this. If they demand you to wire funds to buy them a webcam, block them.
This is a scam in itself; the idea is that if they’re legitimate, they won’t mind video calling you. Rarely, you may get lured into a Skype scam, which is very serious.
The Story Of Picciano
The Huffington Post shared a pretty extravagant story, which started with a simple “hello” on OkCupid. The victim was quickly asked to wire over thousands of dollars, to which he agreed.
After it was all said and done, Picciano, the victim, had sent “genuineguy62” or his claimed name of “Bruce Thompson” over seventy-thousand dollars.
Bruce even talked on the phone with Picciano, backing the idea that even talking to the scammer isn’t always a sure-fire way to prevent a scam from happening.
Four weeks later, he called the police and reported the incident. This story speaks volumes about how much money can be taken in such a short amount of time!
To read more about an even crazier romance scam, click here.
The past year, in particular, has seen a surge in online dating scams that we’ve never witnessed before. Protecting yourself doesn’t have to be difficult, as long as you follow our advice correctly.
You can start by asking questions, which is an essential aspect of staying safe. Next, always make sure you research, especially if you suspect a fake profile!
If you suspect a scam, follow our advice and reverse image search, request a video call, and, most of all, stay away from unwanted and sketchy apps.
Romance scammers can thrive by using questionable apps that do not require verification. If you abide by these steps, you will not become another statistic.
The unbelievable amount of money scammed reaches into the hundreds of millions every year, more than any other online scam.
Our final advice is to never send money to anyone online, especially on a dating website or application.