It’s a con as old as time. An impostor poses as the perfect suitor, lures a victim into a romance, then proceeds to loot his or her finances. And now, with the twist of modern technology, con artists are finding victims through online dating sites and apps.

“I know someone who ran into a scammer while online dating,” says Marc Riolo, a veteran of online dating who lives in Washington State. “My friend was messaging with this guy, who said he was an oil executive flying in and out of the country, stringing her along with excuses for not meeting up.”

When the suitor emailed her to say he was in jail and needed bail, the woman’s friends felt compelled to step in.

“We had to convince her the situation was suspicious. She really liked the guy, but she didn’t send the money,” Riolo recalls. “And then he just disappeared.”

But not everyone manages to escape an online romance scam unscathed. According to the FBI, in the last six months of 2014 Americans lost more than $82 million to online dating fraud in situations similar to the one Riolo recounted.



What are some warning signs? When someone you haven’t met in person wants to quickly leave the dating site’s messaging apps—and the privacy they offer—to talk by phone or send messages to your email address. Or once you've established an online relationship, the suitor gives multiple excuses to avoid meeting up. Or he or she cancels a date to finally meet at the last minute for outlandish reasons. An ensuing plea for money might involve expenses for family members, medical problems, or a business deal gone sour.

In our survey, more women than men (56 percent to 41 percent) reported hesitating to try online dating because of concerns about scams. Monica Whitty, a psychologist and the author of “Truth, Lies and Trust on the Internet” (Routledge, 2008), is working to develop new ways to detect and prevent online fraud, such as software with the potential to identify scammers through the language they use. And AARP is petitioning leading online dating sites such as Match.com and OkCupid to educate its members on how common and devastating—financially and emotionally—these scams can be.

In the meantime, there are a couple of easy things you can do to avoid falling victim to a romance scam. Don’t hesitate to search online, using a suitor’s full name, to see whether his or her photos and claims match his or her social media imprint. And take a good look at the photos. Often scammers will use glamorous pictures stolen from someone else with model looks.

At the end of the day, remember the old adage: If someone seems too good to be true, they probably are.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the February 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.