Long distance relationship scams are shockingly common. The FTC found that nearly 70,000 people reported a romance scam in 2022, which allegedly cost innocent people $1.3 Billion.
You might think this will never happen to you, but don’t underestimate how good romance scammers are.
The scenarios we talk about may seem completely obvious, but they can be made to sound incredibly plausible when emotions are involved.
So, set aside your pride and read this article. It may save you thousands of dollars and a whole lot of heartache.
How Long Distance Relationship Scams Work
Romance scams are usually a form of organized crime. Sure, some scammers are individuals, but many involve syndicates. They are literally call centers, with people running multiple relationships. And the conversion rates prove that they are very good at what they do.
So how do they get started?
Well, a scammer identifies you as a potential victim on social media or an online dating site. They stalk you online and get a sense of your likes and dislikes. Then, when they connect with you, they pretend to have all these things in common with you. That fosters a fast, deep sense of connection.
The scammer will often pretend to be a professional working overseas, for example:
- An American vet working in Dubai
- An Australian in the army
- British engineer working on an oil rig
- Or a humanitarian aid worker
Scammers targeting men might pretend to be an educated woman living in the Philippines, or Thailand. These sorts of stories provides semi-plausible reasons for them for video calls to be hard to make, and (later) why they need your help.
After they make the initial contact, the scammer will then spend weeks or months grooming you—contacting you every day, telling you lovely things—thing you want to hear, sending gifts, and gaining your love and trust.
Once you’re emotionally invested, they ask for money. If you send them money, they will usually ask again, having another reason why they need more money from you.
This can happen again, and again, and again.
Some people, smart people, have lost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars this way.
Here are five ways a scammer will commonly make the ask.
Common Long Distance Relationship Scams You Must Know
1. The medical emergency scam
Maybe a relative gets very sick and they need money for an urgent surgery or life-saving medication. Or there’s a car accident and they or other family members have been injured and need money for medical treatment. The possibilities are endless.
2. The meet-up scam
They tell you all about how they can’t wait to come visit you… if only they had the money. After you pay for their ticket and/or visa costs, however, they are further delayed or just never arrive.
3. The Anniversary scam
They use holidays (like Valentine’s Day) and special “relationship anniversaries” (like “4 weeks since we met and our lives changed forever”) to smoothly ask for money for a noble cause (like the ones mentioned above) instead of a “gift”.
4. The frozen bank account/credit card scam
One popular version of this plays off the meet-up scam: The big day is here, they’re finally coming and you’ll get to meet! Except… they ring you and tell they’re at the airport all ready to come visit, but suddenly their credit card was rejected. They urgently need to borrow some money to pay for the ticket and catch the plane. They’ll pay you back as soon as the credit card issue is resolved, of course.
Or they’re in another country (often scammers will pose as people who are traveling or living abroad for work) and their bank account is inexplicably frozen. They need money for some urgent reason. Could you wire it to them?
Always, always question this frozen bank account story. For example, there are no circumstances ― ever ― in which a real member of the military from the US, Canada, the UK, etc needs to ask for money for service-related transportation, medical care or administrative fees. Ever.
5. The sexual blackmail scam
Here, the scammer wants you to get (ahem) virtually naked. If you engage in any sexual talk or play via a webcam, or send any nude photos of yourself, these are gold for scammers. In the traditional sexual blackmail scam, the scammer will threaten to send them to your family, friends, or work colleagues (or just post them online with your name and other identifying details) if you don’t give them money.
5 Clear Signs of a Fake Long Distance Relationship
The most sophisticated scammers are very hard to spot. Their English will be good, they will often talk to you on the phone, they may send you flowers and gifts, and they will spend months (sometimes years) building a close relationship with you.
But many scammers still aren’t quite on that level, thankfully. Here are five signs that should make you wonder if you’re being scammed.
1. Quickly having strong feelings for you
They might say/write that they feel like you’re “the one,” or tell you they love you. The things that they say will paint vivid pictures of happy romance in your mind, like:
I can’t wait to marry you and hold your hand to show the whole world how much I love you.
2. They move you away from the dating site to communicate privately
They often do that by saying they’ve just cancelled their subscription, or they can only send a couple of messages for free on the dating site. They’ll say these thing, then give you an email address and invite you to connect by email. Or they send you (very attractive) pictures and tell you they’ll send more by email.
3. Their messages don’t match what they say about themselves
For example, they say they are university educated, have a professional position, or come from a Western country, but their English is poor and there are odd spelling and grammar mistakes in their emails.
4. They won’t get on a video call with you
They keep making excuses about there being no webcam available, or that the internet bandwidth doesn’t support video. This last excuse is particularly plausible because in many places in the world (remember, the scammer usually pretends to be overseas for professional reasons) the internet doesn’t support video very well.
5. They always have excuses as to why you can’t meet in person
Maybe they’re in the army and on active deployment, or working as a contractor on an oil rig, or… there may be lots of reasons they can’t travel to meet you right now. These same scenarios (they’re stuck on the oil rig, they can’t access their civilian bank account) can be used to set up the “ask”.
How to Protect Yourself From Being Scammed
So if scammers are really that good at getting people to give them money, can you protect yourself? Yes!! Here are 9 great ways to protect yourself from being taken for a really un-fun type of “romance ride.”
1. Be cautious from the start
It’s really hard to accept that you’re being scammed once your emotions are significantly involved. Once we’ve “fallen” for someone we will actively look for ways to believe that they’re telling us the truth. So approach every new online relationship with caution.
2. Check their photos
Use the free Google Image Search to see where else the photos have appeared. Click on the camera icon in the search box and then drag in or upload a picture. Google will show you where that image has been posted online. You may be able to see if it was used by someone else or if it has been reported to a scam list.
3. Keep conversations on the dating site
Most scammers will try to move you away from the dating site very quickly, because dating sites are getting better at identifying scammers and blocking their profiles. So stay on the dating site while you’re exchanging those initial emails.
4. Do some online research
5. Check the text of their messages
Many scammers are literally working from scripts. Cut and paste some of the messages from your new online friend into Google and see if identical or very similar messages pop up.
6. Check where their emails are coming from
Computers, smartphones and tablets are all assigned an IP address that shows you the country of origin. Every email has a header that reveals the IP address of the device that sent it. You can learn how to find the header of an email and analyze it here to find the IP address of the device that sent it. And you can learn how to find the approximate location of that IP address here.
7. Invite them to video chat
Very few scammers will be prepared to get on video with you. They will make all sorts of excuses for why they can’t, but take those excuses with a grain of salt. Not being able to get access to a webcam in this day and age is suspect, especially for educated professionals, no matter where they’re working.
8. Don’t share intimate pictures or videos
Intimate pictures and videos can come back to bite you later in two ways. Your partner can use them as “revenge porn” after a nasty breakup, or they can be used to straight-out blackmail you by a scammer.
9. Never send money if you haven’t met in person
Look, even if you’re not being scammed, if someone you’ve only recently met online needs to turn to you for financial help then they:
- Aren’t very good at managing their personal finances; and
- Don’t have a good, supportive network of friends and family who can help them out during a crisis.
Both of these things should independently make you question whether or not you really want to be in a relationship with this person.
But, seriously, this last point bears repeating. I know you think you’re too smart to do this but you might not be.
So make it a personal rule before you ever start dating online that you will never ever send money. That way you’ll be more prepared to say no if you ever get asked. Because chances are by the time you’re asked for money you’re not going to be thinking logically. You’ll be thinking with your heart instead of your head, and your heart will want to help someone you care about because your heart is kind and good and probably a little bit lonely.
You’re Ready to Spot a Fake Long Distance Relationship a Mile Away
So guard that lonely heart well, will you? It could save you thousands of dollars and (possibly even more importantly) a whole lot of hurt.
Do you need a second opinion? Join our free long distance relationship support group where can talk directly with and get advice from other like-minded people about your situation.