There's no rest for the wicked, and romance scam artists are constantly hard at work trying to separate lonely victims from their hard-earned funds.
But actually telling scammers apart from innocent people in need can be nerve-wracking. So, the Federal Trade Commission is here to help.
The FTC has compiled a list of the most common tricks that scammers use to establish a romantic connection. It's based on keyword analysis conducted on thousands of reports from 2022, thanks to work from the FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network.
Last year, nearly 70,000 victims reported romance scams. Be on the lookout for those with sick relatives, jobs on oil rigs, and a lot more.
“Someone Close to Me Is Sick, Hurt, or in Jail”
Scammers trying to create a romantic connection with their victim don't have a lot of time. They need to open with a line that will instantly hook someone, and get them to keep responding. Then, once they have someone to talk to, they can steadily get closer over a long period of time.
Finally, they'll be able to rely on that connection to ask for money, which they'll likely keep doing as long as they can. So what lines can reel in the most victims?
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Likely something related to financial hardships — whether they claim to be facing one themselves, or claim to be able to help their victim avoid one. The most common line, used nearly a quarter (24%) of the time, is “I or someone close to me is sick, hurt, or in jail.”
Here are all of the top eight most frequently used lines, as determined by a study of over 8,000 romance scam reports from last year:
“I'm on an Oil Rig”
You might expect to hear about a fake occupation from a romance scammer — and you keep an eye out for two in particular: A soldier at a far-off military post, or someone on an oil rig.
Why? Because picking these occupations makes it easier to a romance scammer to explain why they're never able to actually visit. The scammer can then debut a sick relative down the road, giving them an excuse to shake down a victim.
Romance scam losses in 2022 alone added up to a whopping $1.3 billion, with the median amount reported coming in at $4,400.
Common ways a scammer might contact a victim include social media (40% of reported incidents) as well as a dating website or app (19%). When they ask for money, they'll likely suggest a cryptocurrency exchange or a bank transfer, although they may go for gift cards instead.
Top Tips for Spotting Romance Scammers
But not everyone who texts you to chat will be a scammer. So how can you actually tell who's who? The FTC has a checklist of suggestions that can help anyone with a shred of doubt about the intentions of the person they're texting.
According to the FTC, these four tips will help you judge:
- Nobody legit will ever ask you to help—or insist that you invest— by sending cryptocurrency, giving the numbers on a gift card, or by wiring money. Anyone who does is a scammer.
- If someone tells you to send money to receive a package, you can bet it’s a scam.
- Talk to friends or family about a new love interest and pay attention if they’re concerned.
- Try a reverse image search of profile pictures. If the details don’t match up, it’s a scam.
Stay safe, and remember: Don't give money to anyone on an oil rig.