Blinded by love - Seven ways you can avoid falling victim to a romance scam

As people try online dating to find love, they should also take steps to protect themselves from scammers. Picture: Geralt/Pixabay

As people try online dating to find love, they should also take steps to protect themselves from scammers. Picture: Geralt/Pixabay

Published Feb 13, 2024


Online dating in South Africa is experiencing a surge in popularity, with a growing number of individuals seeking connections and companionship on digital platforms.

As more people venture into the virtual realm, a surge of scammers has also emerged, preying on the desire for connection.

Valentine's Day, one of the most popular days for love, brings with it not only the promise of love but also the threat of romance scams. Fraudsters use romance scams to exploit individuals emotionally and financially, often resulting in heartbreaking consequences.

Statista reported that online dating revenue will reach US$23.80 million (over R450 million) in 2024 and online dating sites will have 6.7 million users by 2028.

How do romance scams operate?

Fraudsters typically create fake profiles on dating websites, social media platforms, or online forums to gain access to unsuspecting victims.

Once they gain access to their targets, they establish connections and trust by showering potential victims with affection, compliments, and promises of lasting love. Some fraudsters even shower their targets with flashy gifts and money.

Scammers will then fabricate stories of hardship or financial distress to gain sympathy and manipulate their victims into providing them with money or personal information.

They can do this to play on their target’s emotions to get money out of them, or to steal a person’s identity.

Here are seven tips to help you avoid falling prey to such scams:

Too good to be true

Beware of profiles that seem overly perfect or match your dreams precisely. Scammers often craft enticing personas to lure victims.

The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC), warned that romance scammers will create profiles that match the requirements of the people they want to target to build trust with unsuspecting victims.

Rapid escalation

People need to exercise caution if the relationship moves too quickly and they are flooded with professions of love or promises of a future within a short time.

Scammers aim to establish trust quickly and use this trust to trick victims into giving them money or confidential information that they will use to steal a victim’s money.

Conduct thorough research

Before committing to an online relationship, make sure that you verify the identity of the person you are interacting with. You can do this by searching their name, photos, or any other information they provide to see if it matches up. You should also check if they have been associated with any scam reports.

Guard your personal information

Never share sensitive information, such as your address, financial details, ID or passport number, with someone you have met online.

Scammers may use this information to commit identity theft or gain unauthorised access to your accounts by impersonating you and accessing your bank accounts to steal your hard-earned money.

Use secure platforms

Don’t move your conversation with a potential suitor to a private messaging platform. Instead, stick to reputable and legitimate dating websites or social media platforms that prioritise user safety. These sites often have security measures or helplines to monitor and remove suspicious profiles.

Seek advice from trusted people

Speak to friends, family, or even professionals if you have any doubts or concerns about the authenticity of an online relationship. Their outside perspective can offer you valuable insight and help you make informed decisions.

If you have been scammed – there is a greater chance of you being targeted again.

Scammers can share details amongst themselves to increase their chances of success. Don’t be embarrassed to tell someone you have been scammed because you can stop this from happening to someone else.

Practice online safety when shopping for love interests

Cyber criminals will often use fake website names and deceptive e-mails to lure users to phishing sites and even to spread malware.

These fraudsters also create fake online stores or imitate popular online stores you often shop at. Scammers may also advertise specials via internet browsers or social media to fool you into visiting the fake online store.

Once you make a purchase, your credit card and personal details are phished. The transaction may be successfully processed, however, the goods are not delivered, your money is not refunded and in most cases the company cannot be contacted.

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