Online dating? Tips to avoid romance scams

Man and woman holding an iPad.

Photo by Antonio Diaz

Published February 11, 2020

by Orly Stein

As many as 17% of marriages begin online, according to a 2018 study. But tens of thousands of people each year find a scammer on the other side how is trying to trick them into sending money. A little knowledge is all it takes to stay safe.

What is a romance scammer?



UBIT Student Ambassador Orly Stein.

Orly Stein (UB Student, Class of 2022) is an Information Technology and Management major from Long Island, NY. In the future, she hopes to get more experience with cyber security and pursue a career in the field. In her free time, Orly enjoys playing soccer, going to SoulCycle with her friends and snowboarding.

Romance scammers create fake profiles and contact their targets through popular apps or sites. They build a relationship with their targets and, after gaining their trust, ask for money using a made-up story.

These scams can go on for weeks, months or even years. Since the scammers spend a lot of time making the person on the other end believe they are in a real relationship, an emotional attachment can develop that leads the victim to feel sympathy for the scammer’s story.

As long as the victim continues to send money, the scammer may keep asking for more. As soon as the victim says no, the tone of the conversation can change, becoming more abusive and manipulative in order to guilt the victim into continuing the relationship.

Talking to someone online?

As with any scam, it’s harder to be taken advantage of when you stay attentive to details and careful about giving out personal information too freely.

  • Ask many questions. Try to learn as much as you can about the person you’re talking to.
  • Keep your personal information personal. Don’t be too trustworthy of someone you haven’t met in person.
  • Keep track of what they say. Be wary of coincidental similarities or inconsistencies in an individual’s story.

What should I look out for?

  • Romance scammers often claim that they’re from the United States, but will say they are currently living or traveling abroad.
  • The scammer will try to appeal to their target’s empathy and convince them to send money, often for travel expenses, to pay off debts or for medical expenses.
  • When asking for money, scammers often ask you to wire money or buy reloadable cards/gift cards so they can remain anonymous. These transactions are also nearly impossible to reverse.
  • Scammers will often make excuses about why they can’t meet you in person.

When in doubt, remember: NEVER send money to someone you haven’t met in person!

I’ve been duped! What should I do?

If you think you are a victim of a romance scam:

Contact your bank right away if you think you sent money to a scammer.

If you need more help dealing with someone you met online, contact University Police.