Like with so many other things, technology has opened up a world of dating that is much bigger than the people you are likely to meet in your daily life. Sadly, digital dating has also become the hunting ground of fraudsters, scammers and thieves. Thousands of people lose vast amounts of money every year to romance scams, along with their faith in humanity and confidence in their own judgement.
According to a study done in 2022 by Techshielder, a technology and online security news website, South Africa is one of 20 countries in the world where people are most likely to fall victim to online romance scams. Techshielder looked at how many reports there were in each country for romance scams. South Africa had 190 reported romance scams, while the Philippines took the number one spot with 1 315 incidents. It is highly likely that the real numbers are much higher, because often victims are so ashamed and embarrassed that they don’t report having been scammed.
How does romance fraud work?
Even if the scam is elaborate, the underlying process is very simple:
- The fraudster connects with the victim pretending to want a romantic relationship, typically using a fake identity.
- The fraudster develops a personal relationship with the victim and uses the intimacy of a budding romance to discover the person’s desires, insecurities and weaknesses.
- Once the relationship has been formed, the fraudster asks the victim for money or other valuables.
Instead of hard cash, fraudsters often claim to need money for transport to visit the victim but then keep making excuses for why the trip cannot happen just yet. Depending on the con, the scheme can be over quickly or run for a long time – even years.
Types of scams
In a love bombing scam, fraudsters shower their victim with messages of love and devotion to gain their trust quickly and to manipulate them.
In blackmail romance scams, fraudsters use private information about their victims to blackmail them. Most often, fraudsters threaten to share intimate pictures, videos or text conversations.
Pro-dating is an elaborate scam in which the fraudster pretends to be on a real date or even a vacation with the victim – except that the victim ends up paying for everything.
In inheritance romance scams, fraudsters convince the victim that they are about to inherit a lot of money, but they need the victim to help pay legal fees or other costs.
Military impersonation is a common tactic. Fraudsters pretend to be in the military and stationed overseas somewhere, which gives them a good cover to ask for international money transfers.
With code verification the fraudster doesn’t ask for money but uses the relationship to collect personal information on the victim that can be used later on to steal the person’s identity or access their bank accounts.
How to protect yourself
- Be careful about sharing personal information online. Fraudsters use social media platforms to identify their targets. Don’t tell them too much about yourself early on, and never give personal information such
as your ID number or passwords.
- Verify what your online date tells you as much as you can, and check their other social media profiles to see if they are who they claim to be.
- Don’t send money. Be very careful, and even suspicious, whenever someone asks you for money. If you’ve never met the person, you should never send them money or buy them valuables.
Signs that the other person could be a scamster
- They ask for very personal information, such as ID numbers.
- They don’t tell you much about themselves.
- They refuse to meet you in person.
- The stories they tell you don’t add up.
- They try to move the relationship forward very quickly.
- They claim “it’s an emergency” and you have to urgently help them with money.
- They ask you to chat outside the dating platform.
- They ask you to transfer money on their behalf – this could be money laundering.