By now, you’ve probably heard the story of the “Tinder swindler,” a man named Shimon Hayut who allegedly impersonated the heir to a diamond dynasty to scam hopeful singles out of millions. He claims that he’s innocent—but the real Leviev family is suing him. You can watch the twisted scam play out on Netflix’s The Tinder Swindler.
You might think that you would never be caught by a scammer, but the truth is that these crafty con men (and women) can be very persuasive. Read about the playbooks of these deceptive playboys and learn to spot a grifter on Tinder. Your bank account will thank you.
Romance Scams Are Big Business
According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scammers are on the rise. Between 2019 and 2020, the agency reported losses rose 50% to over $300 million. The median loss per person is about $2500. Unfortunately, those numbers rose again in 2021, with the FTC reporting total losses of $547 million that year. The FBI puts the dollar figure even higher at an estimated $1 billion!
Those numbers may be lower than reality, however, as people who are the victims of scams are often too ashamed to come forward. “The bottom line is most consumers are not reporting fraud when it happens and romance scams may be particularly unlikely to be reported because there can be a lot of embarrassment around it,” FTC analyst Emma Fletcher told USA TODAY.
Sadly, although romance scams rose across all demographics, the victims who lost the most were in their 70s and older. The elderly may often be lonely and have less robust support systems. They can also struggle with technology, making it easier for swindlers to confuse and bamboozle them.
Bitcoin, Dating Apps, and Scammers—a Match Made Somewhere Other Than Heaven
In addition to more traditional scams—asking for money to pay for a plane ticket, for example, or using a sob story about medical expenses—cryptocurrency has opened up an entirely new dimension of scamming. In September 2021, the FBI reported the rise of this type of romance scam. Over the span of six months, the agency fielded over 1,800 complaints that resulted in losses of over $133 million dollars.
The FBI stated that this type of scammer “claims to have knowledge of cryptocurrency investment or trading opportunities that will result in substantial profits. … After the victim has invested an initial amount on the platform and sees an alleged profit, the scammers allow the victim to withdraw a small amount of money, further gaining the victim’s trust.”
Of course, it’s all a house of cards. After letting the victim get a taste of “success,” the scammer will pressure them to invest more—and fast. After that, the scammer will make up a series of reasons why the victim can’t withdraw money again. Some even get fake customer service representatives in on it. Eventually, the scammer will ghost their victims, adding heartbreak to their list of misdeeds.
Pay Attention to These Romance Scam Red Flags
How do you know if you’re being scammed? The early warning signs are there if you know where to look. Pay attention to any of these red flags.
“Love Bombing” and Moving Too Fast
Love bombing is a tactic used by both scammers and abusers. The person showers their victim with praise, professions of love, and gifts. They may also start saying things like, “I can’t live without you” or “you’re the only person who understands me.” The storm of flattery can leave the victim feeling totally overwhelmed but also excited. It’s nice to be needed—but not when you’re being manipulated into feeling that way.
If you meet a new friend on a dating app who seems to be moving way too fast, pump the breaks immediately. “If it feels too soon and even too good to be true, it probably is. Love tends to take time to develop and blossom, and isn’t based on the other person’s perception of you being perfect,” therapist Kaylin Zabienski told Insider.
Suggesting That You Leave the App to Talk
There’s a very good reason why scammers want you to leave the app where they meet you as soon as possible. While chatting in the app offers you some level of protection, once you start texting directly, things get riskier. According to the Minnesota Attorney General, “romance scammers ask their victims to use personal email or instant messaging to keep their schemes under law enforcement’s radar.”
They also want you to focus your attention on them rather than chatting with other potential love interests. Many will claim that they want to delete the app now that they’ve met you—and if you won’t do the same, it means that you don’t trust them!
Elaborate Excuses Not to Meet in Person
Once you’ve established some level of trust on a dating app, the next logical step is to meet in person. But scammers will do anything and everything to avoid this while keeping you on the hook.
The first red flag to watch out for is a person whose circumstances make it impossible for you to meet. The FTC specifically warns of scammers who create profiles of people who are living or working outside the United States. They may claim to be deployed overseas with the military or working a long assignment on an oil rig. More ambitious scammers might even claim to be working as a doctor in war-torn or impoverished parts of the world to play on your heartstrings.
You might also encounter swindlers who claim to live in the US but can’t meet you for other reasons. Often, they will claim not to be able to afford a plane ticket—giving them an opening to ask for money. Some will claim to be in the middle of a messy divorce or custody battle, while others come up with more mundane excuses to cancel at the last minute. They’ll also refuse to compromise with a video chat or a phone call–because that would give away their lies.
If a person you meet on a dating app isn’t available for any reason—scammer or not—then they aren’t worth your valuable time.
Asking for Money
The biggest red flag of them all is when someone on a dating app asks you for money. They’ll likely have a great excuse, such as desperately wanting to meet but not having the funds to travel. Other scammers will claim to have medical emergencies, either for themselves or for loved ones, and insist that you are the only person who can help them. By that point, they’ve already established the bonds of trust; now, they’ll test you to see how much you’ll give.
That’s exactly what happened to a woman named Deborah Colgate, who started chatting with someone she believed to be a divorced Army colonel stationed in England. Using stolen details and even pictures of the real Col. Blackmon, the scammer told Colgate a sob story about how his ex-wife had tried to kill their young son. But now that he’d met Colgate, he felt like he could love again. The scammer posing as Blackmon even proposed marriage despite the fact that they’d never met.
Then came the ask. The scammer claimed that his son needed surgery immediately. Because he was living overseas, he couldn’t access his own accounts—and there was no time to waste if she wanted to help save the little boy’s life. Thankfully, Colgate’s daughter realized something was wrong before she wired him the money. When they dug a little deeper, they discovered that Blackmon’s identity was being used by hundreds of fake accounts across dating sites and social media.
Asking for Your Bank Information, Sending Money by “Mistake”
Scammers know that asking for money doesn’t always work. That’s why they try a reverse scam and ask to send you money instead. Of course, they’ll need your bank account information to deposit the cash, and once they have that information, it’s open season on your checking account.
“If someone you meet online needs your bank account information to deposit money, they are most likely using your account to carry out other theft and fraud schemes,” the FBI warns.
Other scammers will send you money through a cash app or in the form of Bitcoin “by mistake.” They’ll then ask you to send it back to them or to the “real” person they meant to pay. The FTC calls this scam a “money mule,” and thousands of people fall for it each year. If you help move stolen money, regardless of whether you know that a crime is being committed, you could get into trouble.
In the best-case scenario, you could still end up on the hook for buying gift cards or sending wire transfers with the “oops” cash the scammer sent you. Once you follow through on your end of the bargain, the scammer will withdraw the funds, leaving you with nothing but the knowledge that you were tricked.
Ways to Keep Yourself Safe
While online dating can never be guaranteed 100% safe, there are ways to protect yourself. First, be cautious about how much you post about yourself online. Make sure that your social media accounts are private. Even then, be wary of someone who seems to know all of your likes and dislikes or agrees with all of your opinions—they may have been studying your profiles to pose as Mr. or Ms. Right.
Research the person’s identity, starting with their name and photos. Google allows you to perform a reverse image search, which can clue you in to whether your new match’s pictures are legitimate. Scammers will steal pictures from real profiles, as in the case of Col. Blackmon, or even use stock photos.
Finally, listen to your instincts. The FBI warns dating app users to “[b]eware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.” As with everything else in life, if something—or someone—seems to be too good to be true, then your gut is probably right.