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Sweetheart Scams

“Looking for love in all the wrong places,” so goes the old country song. Unfortunately, online dating websites can be all the right places for criminals looking for victims.

An online dating scam, also called a romance scam, can affect its victim like no other. That’s because it begins with a victim opening up his or her heart, and becoming emotionally attached to someone who appears to be a promising soul mate. The would-be cyber sweetheart comes up with excuses as to why he or she can’t meet face-to-face. At some point the potential suitor brings up a personal emergency or tragedy that helps convince the victim to send a large amount of money. The fairy tale relationship comes to a heartbreaking and hurtful ending when the victim eventually learns the whole thing was a scam.

While it can be hard to tell whether the person sending you intimate emails, instant messages or texts is really who he or she claims, be wary of the signs of a scam when pursuing love over a long distance.

Carefully review the person’s profile, if there’s one posted on a dating website. Was it very recently set up? If it’s a dating site profile, is there also a profile of that person on other social media sites, such as Facebook? If so, was the Facebook profile also recently set up, and does the profile connect to friends? Is the person’s profile worded oddly? (Profiles created overseas may contain obvious spelling and grammatical errors.) Also, check the picture posted on the profile. Major search engines allow you to search an image to see if it appears on websites. If that same picture is associated with multiple profiles or appears to be copied from a commercial website, you’ve likely uncovered a scam. If nothing else, run that person’s name through a search engine to see what comes up.

Be wary of someone you meet on a dating website who quickly seeks to move the conversation elsewhere, such as through text messaging, social media messaging, or personal email. Scammers also tend to want to quickly pursue a serious online relationship before ever meeting in person.

Be on the lookout for discrepancies when you communicate. Does the person mention something in a message or phone call that is inconsistent with his or her profile or a previous reference? For example, did the person mention something about his/her past, likes/dislikes, location, or something else that doesn’t follow a previous message or conversation?

Scammers will make up any excuse not to meet you in person, because then it’s all over. They will tell you they’re tied up with a job assignment work issue that popped up, a traveling snafu, family emergency, or any number of excuses. They just won’t schedule—or they keep canceling—that first face-to-face meeting. Oftentimes, scammers will also avoid speaking by phone or video chat.

Along the same lines of not wanting to meet in person, scammers regularly come up with stories about being out of the country. They’ll claim they’re overseas for work, perhaps a military assignment, or even a charity trip.

At some point, a scammer will bring up money. There could be a million different excuses for needing the money. Perhaps he texts you that he needs travel expenses to meet you in person. Or she messages that something serious occurred, like a personal or family medical emergency, travel problem, serious crime, or an unanticipated immediate expense. And he or she pleads for you to help with this financial crisis by wiring money through Western Union, MoneyGram, or other form of electronic payment.

Never wire funds to someone to someone you know only through a dating service, social media site, or messaging. If you suspect a scam, report it immediately to the site through which you met. You can also file a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov) or the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov).

If you suspect you just transferred money to a criminal who engaged in fraud, report it immediately to law enforcement and the money transfer facilitator, but be prepared for bad news: it’s likely your money has vanished—along with your hope for a real relationship with this person you never got to meet.

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