Romance scam and fraud

What is a romance scam or fraud?

A romance scam or fraud is a form of social engineering, where scammers persuade victims about their feelings and love, and create a strong emotional connection or relationship with the victims, for financial gain or information.

According to the FBI, romance scams occur when criminals adopt fake online identities to gain victims’ affection and trust. The scammers use the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim (money, information, valuable physical or digital goods).

Romance scammers victimize unsuspecting individuals through manipulative communicative acts online, that include romance, love, sex.

The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do, and seem genuine, caring, and believable. They are present on most dating websites and apps, and most and social media websites. They manipulate and exploit the target’s emotions (friendship, excitement, adventure, love, fear, guilt).

Romance scams have serious financial and emotional consequences. Victims, hundreds of thousands of people, experience significant emotional distress and financial loss.

Online dating is becoming a more important and more acceptable way to meet people. According to Brym (2001), the reason is a booming population of singles, a career focus that limits the time one would use to meet others, mobility, globalization, and frequent business and personal communications online.

How a romance scam or fraud works?

Scammers create profiles that contain attractive photos and a nice description about their personality and business. They attract persons and convince them to communicate out of the online dating website, social networking website or application, asking for a personal e-mail address, instant messaging, or phone number. In these ways they avoid the risk to be tracked by the website or application, and reduce competition with other scammers or visitors. Victims also believe that scammers are really interested in them, when they ask to call them or exchange emails.

Online dating apps often employ persons that monitor suspicious behavior. If they notice a user sending the same message to many different users or members, they may flag the activity as suspicious. Scammers try to avoid detection.

Scammers contact their victims frequently, until they gain their trust. They gather information and understand the way their victims think, something that makes the next steps easier.

Scammers portray themselves as very romantic and passionate, they may use literature and poetry, they look cool and funny. They seem concerned about the victims and their problems, and willing to listen and offer advice. They are willing to commit in a relationship or marriage.

Many scammers get very serious very quickly. They send extravagant compliments, claim to be falling in love, and claim they have never felt this way about anyone before.

After some time, scammers may test the readiness of the target to be supportive. They describe some form of crisis that they or their family members are in, such as accidents, illness, deaths, travelling mishaps, lawsuits, business failures. They request money again, as long as the victims are still unaware of the deception, or refuse to believe that they have been scammed.

Easy victims

Lonely persons

Albert Einstein has said that it is strange to be known so universally, and yet to be so lonely.

Loneliness is an important problem and a pervasive public health concern, significantly correlated with increases in health problems and mortality rates, including heart disease, lung disease, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, atherosclerosis, stroke, and metabolic disorders, such as obesity and metabolic disease. Psychological problems include depression, stress, anxiety, feelings of emptiness or abandonment, associated with a lack of relationships or intimacy.

According to Weiss, loneliness is a feeling that may arise at certain moments in life and affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, or other socio-demographic characteristics. He makes the distinction between emotional loneliness and social loneliness.

Emotional aspects that accompany loneliness, include sadness, melancholy, frustration, shame, or desperation. Our own subjective evaluation regarding the quality and quantity of our social relationships, is based on our personality, our expectations, our life events, our interpersonal engagements, and socio-economic variables.

In psychology, loneliness is often defined as the unpleasant experience that occurs when there is a subjective discrepancy between the desired and the perceived availability and quality of social interactions. The quality of one’s social relationships is a very important factor.

Loneliness can be a very distressing experience. We must understand people that are desperate and use online dating sites and applications. Victims of the romance scam are very often lonely persons that do not want to lose one more hope.

Romantic persons

In 1989, Sprecher and Metts devised the Romantic Beliefs Scale. They consider romanticism as an ideology, a relatively coherent individual orientation toward love, that may function as a cognitive schema for organizing and evaluating one’s own behaviour, and the behaviour of a potential or actual romantic partner.

Those who score high on the Romantic Beliefs Scale strongly believe in the romantic destiny, the idea that people are meant to be together. Persons with strong romantic beliefs are more likely to perceive someone who approaches them online as having real feelings and emotions.

Paulo Coelho writes in The Alchemist: “So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.”

Victims of the romance scam are very often romantic persons that believe that Paulo Coelho's words are often true.

Adventure and sensation seekers

According to Lord Byron, the great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.

According to Zuckerman, high sensation seekers consider risks as lower, and feel less anxious in risky situations. They engage in in risky sexual behavior and they play the online dating game, believing they will not be burnt. They do not realize that they may engage with professionals, sometimes working for the organized crime, that can outsmart them.

Persons with a lack of experience or judgement

Judgment is the ability to combine personal qualities with relevant knowledge and experience to form opinions and make decisions. Unfortunately, it often involves instinct, “gut feeling”, experience, and skills to produce an insight, recognize a pattern, or pick up on what’s not said. Although we are all capable of forming views and interpreting evidence, we are not all good at that.

Romance scammers often do not have a digital footprint, or pretend to be someone else. A smart person can easily verify the information scammers give. Privacy advocates that have no social presence or try to minimize the amount of personal information about them on the internet, can also give some information to the persons they "love", to give them the opportunity to ensure they are not dealing with scammers.

We all know that some people have better judgment than others. Poor judgment leads to irrational actions and risk-taking behaviors. When they make mistakes, react to feedback by getting emotional, or by refusing to recognize facts.

Romance Scams

Understanding Cybersecurity.

1. What is Disinformation?

2. What is Cyber Espionage?

3. What is Sexspionage?

Cyber Risk GmbH, some of our clients