How to Avoid a "Sweetheart Scam"
The "Sweetheart Scam" is nothing new, but the internet and dating sites have made it much easier to pull off. Scammers scour online profiles and use their charm to convince the victim that it's love at first sight. Before they know it, they're handing over all their money and valuables. Then, the scammer moves on.
The FBI reports that losses from sweetheart or dating scams have doubled in the past 10 years to between $15,000 and $20,000 per victim.
It's a horrible crime. But, you can use these tips to avoid it, or stop someone you know from getting taken in by this heinous con.
1. Try not to get involved with anyone right after a relationship
Be wary about getting involved with someone else soon after an ended relationship. The sweetheart scam preys especially on those who are divorced, widowed, or recently single.
At this time, you're at your most vulnerable. You're emotionally unstable, and you may be craving the attention of a new partner. You are more likely to be open to suggestion. Scammers are superb at reading your emotional state and manipulating you. So, be aware of anyone who approaches you soon after a break up of any kind, and if money comes up, walk away.
2. Don't give money or valuables to anyone
You could have met the nicest person in the world. They seem kind and honest. They are charming. They tell you everything you want to hear. But, pretty soon after laying this groundwork, the requests come in for money and valuables.
They're small at first. They may ask for a few bucks to help cover a phone bill until payday, and they promise to pay you back. However, the requests will only get bigger as they gain your trust. Before you know it, you're handing over hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to someone because you genuinely think they love you. All they love is your cash. Once they have bled you dry, they'll move on. Don't give anyone money until you have a long, proven relationship, and know everything about them.
3. Research your new sweetheart
Never take anyone at face value. The internet has given scammers an incredible resource. They can find images of people they want to look like, create fake websites, steal personal videos, and even create hundreds of phony friends.
Even if everything is going great, do some digging. It doesn't hurt to do a background check; they're inexpensive and can give you a great deal of information. If you discover they have horrible credit and a history of bad debts and dubious deals, you may want to ask them about it. Do a reverse image search on their photos. Are they who they say they are? Are they insanely good looking? Check phone numbers. Check places like LinkedIn and Google+ to see if the information they have told you checks out. It never hurts to be too careful. If they're too good to be true, they probably are.
4. Talking on the phone isn't enough
There's nothing wrong with beginning a long-distance relationship, and for thousands of people every year, it works. But scammers love to operate over phones and emails. They'll refuse to show their real face, or meet in person. You've probably seen Catfish, the MTV show, and know how this goes. Fake photos, fake Facebook and Twitter profiles, sometimes even phony voices. Although seeing someone's face over a video call like Skype won't automatically protect you from a scam, it's a step in the right direction.
If you get resistance, and a bunch of excuses, block this person. There is no reason someone cannot video chat in this day and age. Technology is dirt cheap, and even libraries have computers with webcams.
5. Find a safe place to meet and talk
If you want to avoid a sweetheart scam, meeting someone in person is essential. You'll get a much better impression of them face to face. So if you've reached the point where you're ready to meet, do it in a safe place. That is not your home, and it's definitely not their home.
You are looking for a place that is well known to you, is occupied by people and/or staff, and has an easy way for you to leave. A public park is fine if it's during the day and plenty of people are around. But your best bet is usually a busy coffee shop or restaurant. These days, many bars and restaurants are staffed with people who know about the dangers of meeting people online. They may have notices posted in the bathrooms, providing code words that you can use to get you out of the situation.
6. Be wary of an early "I love you"
Do lightning-fast romances happen? Of course. Are two people meant to be together, and feel it the second they meet? Yes, sometimes. But the vast majority of people fall in love over time. You get to know the person intimately. You find out their flaws, and love them for every single one. You meet their family and friends. It's a process. If someone you meet blurts this out after a week or two, alarm bells should be ringing.
7. How's their grammar?
Many sweetheart scams originate in places like Nigeria, where English is a second language. Although technology like Google Translate helps to disguise this, you should pick up on mistakes that feel weird. This is not to say you should become a grammar Nazi, but if the texts and emails you get are worded in an odd way, with spelling errors most people wouldn't make, you may want to do some digging. Of course, talking on the phone, video chatting, and meeting in person would easily clear up this particular point of contention.
8. Listen to your friends and family
There's an expression that directly applies to sweetheart scams; you can't see the forest for the trees. When you become involved with someone, the heart rules the head for a while. You can get caught up in the other person so much, you don't see the obvious; that they're taking you for a ride.
So, during this time, listen to your friends and family. At first, they may just give you subtle hints. But as you begin handing over money, they will usually raise the red flags and tell you to get out of the relationship. Don't ignore them. If they suspect your new love is not all he or she appears to be, take a step back. Do the research. They may be wrong, but if enough of them raise concerns, you should be worried.
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