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Romance Scams - How to spot the signs online

Romance scams are usually perpetrated by those who want financial gain. These scammers go to great lengths to get money by gaining trust from the victim and convincing them they are in dire need of money. At times, these scammers will exploit their victims by using intimate content to extort money from the victim, which they have obtained under the guise of a romantic relationship.

How does it happen?

Romance scams usually start online via a dating site or social media platform; the scammers are incredibly manipulative to create the guise of an online relationship with their victims. The scammers usually operate from overseas; although they may tell you that they live in the UK, there will always be reasons why they cannot meet you. The scammers may pose as successful businessmen or ex-military officers; this is all part of the ‘too good to be true’ ruse they try to create.

These relationships can last for a significant period, and the scammers use very coercive language to foster trust; sometimes, intimate images are shared over messages, as this can be normal in an online relationship. In turn, the scammers use the trust to request money from the victim. The reasons they give can seem very genuine and emotive, and they can go into great detail outlining they need money for a sick relative, for example. Unfortunately, in some situations, the intimate images will be used to blackmail their victim for money and threaten to share the images if they do not give them the money they request.

The warning signs that it may be a scam:

If you feel you may have been subjected to this scam, please know you are not alone, and we are here to help as much as we can. Below are a few signs to look out for and how you can take steps to understand if you are within a scam. 

  • Quickly displaying overly strong emotions and commitment. Scammers can try to move the online relationship very quickly to try and establish a trusting and deep connection with the person; this will be used as leverage to obtain intimate images and ask for money later.
  • Using an image of someone else. You can reverse image search the images they send to you to see whether they are the person they claim to be or using someone else’s images. Please find more information on how to do this here.
  • Asking for money, they may say that this is to pay hospital bills, put children through education, or help them get out of debt. 
  • Not wanting to video call or meet in person. This person could make many excuses for not wanting to make an active video call, or always break away from any plans that would show the person’s identity. The scammer may only send a few images – it is important to do a reverse image search on these to see if their images are “stock images” or of another person. If they are, it is highly likely this is a fake person and is used for scamming purposes. 

What to do if this happens to you or someone you know?

Romance scams are, in some ways, similar to what we call ‘sextortion’ or ‘webcam blackmail.’ Although these types of online crimes occur much quicker, and the build-up of the long-term relationship does not happen, the advice for dealing with the blackmail threats is the same; you can find our advice page, which explains this in more detail here.

  • Stop communication, block the scammer and report to the platform where the threats are happening. You can find more information on how to report to social media platforms here.
  • Do not pay them any money; they will only continue to ask for more.
  • Collect evidence and report this to the police; if the scammer is based outside the UK, they may be limited in what they can do, however, reporting the crime can help build national intelligence of these types of online crime.
  • Put measures in place to protect yourself. This would include creating Google Alerts, reviewing and raising your privacy settings and taking part in the Facebook NCII pilot to prevent the images from being shared across Facebook and Instagram.

If you have fallen victim to an online romance scam, please remember to look after yourself. Romance scams are violating for many reasons; try not to give up on love and reach out for support from friends and family to help you through this tough time. You can find more information on the emotional support services available to you here. 

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