The 12 Scams of Christmas: #1
Christmas is a time of giving, of spending time with loved ones, and of celebrating the birth of Christ. This Christmas season, make sure you can focus on the true meaning of Christmas by avoiding scams. Follow along with our 12 Scams of Christmas series to learn more about the most common scams encountered around the holidays and make sure to use browser protection to avoid holiday scams occurring online.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: the romance scammer of my dreams.
Romance Scams have been around since the dawn of dating websites. As online dating sheds it’s negative stigma, we’ve reached a point where more couples meet online than in any other venue1. When combined with the natural human desire to want to love and be loved, this makes online dating websites a particularly attractive venue for scammers.
Everyone seems to be more kind hearted in the weeks leading up to Christmas and nobody wants to be alone for the holidays. This makes dating websites surprisingly more active this time of year.
How Does a Romance Scam Work?
Romance Scammers (also called catfishers) create a phony persona. They find appealing photos of another person and fabricate an entire life story to describe their background, personality, and romantic desires. In many cases, they take on the identities of real, trusted people, like military personnel, aid workers, police officers, or businessmen.
Using this false persona, they create a profile on a dating website or on social media. They’ll begin communicating with a potential victim and express strong emotions. They might use phrases like “love at first sight” or “soul mate”. They’re likely to suggest moving the conversation off of the website where they first connected with their victim to a more private channel, such as by phone, email, WhatsApp, or instant messaging. They may say the reason is for privacy or they might say that they’re committed to the relationship and don’t want to speak with anyone else. Unbeknownst to the victim, the reality is that their account is actually being removed by the dating website who identified that they’re a romance scammer.
To build trust with their victim, a romance scammer will go to great lengths. They may do this by professing their devotion, showering the victim with gifts, pretending to book flights to visit, or sharing their deepest secrets and desires. Within a short time, the victim is left feeling like they’re involved in the relationship of a lifetime.
At this point, the romance scammer is free to begin taking a more heavy-handed approach toward the ultimate goal of defrauding their victim to obtain money, gifts, or personal details to be used for their own gain. To obtain these things, the romance scammer will make up an excuse to request money. They might say they’re involved in a personal emergency, like legal troubles, passport issues, or need to help a severely ill family member. The possibilities are endless. They may also claim that they want to visit their victim in person, but lack the funds to do so. At this point, the victim is so smitten and in love that they lack their better judgement and send the requested funds or gifts, believing that they’re helping their love interest or securing their future together.
What can I do to stay safe?
- Read Guardio’s Guide Online Dating: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe to recognize the common signs that someone you’re speaking with may be a romance scammer.
- Choose pay-based dating websites with a dedicated security team who work to monitor accounts for inconsistencies and traits/behaviors common in scammers.
- If a dating website contacts you to say that someone you were in contact with was removed for safety reasons, trust their judgment as they have many tools to see behind the scenes and do not take the decision to remove someone lightly.
- Use browser protection like Guardio to identify when a link a scammer who contacted you contains a phishing attempt.
- Activate account monitoring so that you’ll be alerted if a scammer has made your information public to other criminals on the deep web.
- Never, ever send money to someone you don’t already know in person, no matter how believable their story may be.
- Report to the dating website when someone requests money from you or causes you to feel suspicious of their identity.