Romance Scams (Catfishing)

Romance scams, also commonly called catfishing (or catphishing), are a growing threat. Catfishers use social media and dating sites to find and contact victims.

Seniors are targets

Many seniors have lost important social networks and feel isolated. Retirees no longer interact with coworkers, family members may be busy and far away, and their circle of friends may be declining. Scammers often target seniors, looking for those who are alone and vulnerable.

Romance scammers use social media and dating apps to find victims

Your online profile can tell a scammer a lot about you. Your posts and messages can highlight your emotional vulnerabilities and tell the scammer precisely what kind of messaging to mirror back to you. Remember that someone reaching out via a social media or dating site can use any name and picture they want on their profile. According to the FBI, large romance scam operations are often run by criminal organizations. These cybercriminals specialize in creating fraudulent relationships and building dependencies.

Romance scams take time to build relationships

Scammers build relationships over time. They will construct a life that conforms with the victim’s preferences and share their daily experiences in fake posts and pictures. These emotional bonds can be powerful, so strong in fact that victims often are severely traumatized by the deceit. Remember that scammers are creating a fictional person and may not talk to you or video chat with you in real-time because they aren’t who they say they are.

FBI’s tips for avoiding romance scams

The FBI is responsible for investigating online romance scams. Here are their top tips for avoiding becoming a victim.

  • Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
  • Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
  • Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
  • Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
  • Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
  • Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
  • Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.

Hear from a victim and an investigator

Listen to the interviews below to get a more complete understanding of how romance scams work. The loss that the victim shares here is heartbreaking.

Test your knowledge

CGOS Romance Scams
1. Romance scams often begin on social media or dating sites