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Stay Safe Online: Avoid Romance Scams

A romance scam is a form of confidence scheme whereby a scammer gains the trust of a victim by developing a romantic relationship. This relationship usually begins through contact on social media or dating applications, but can also occur on online job sites. Victims can be both men and women. Most of these scams are perpetrated by individuals overseas – primarily Nigeria. 

Many times, the perpetrators of these schemes target older people and those who may be struggling in a relationship and/or are emotionally vulnerable. Though most criminals aim for vulnerable targets, affluent and well-educated individuals also fall victim to these types of scams. In general, these scams have the potential to affect everyone.

Criminals do extensive research on potential victims, looking through social media and dating sites for posts divulging information about their lives and personalities. They are expert manipulators and use these open, personal posts against victims, cultivating them over a long period of time. Victims feel there is a real connection, romantic interest, and become invested in the online relationship. The Internet provides anonymity, allowing criminals unlimited time trolling for potential victims, hoping someone will take the bait.

Victims are often reluctant to report these scams because they are embarrassed and humiliated that they were duped and have become emotionally and financially invested in the relationship. The intimate and personal information victims often provide can then be used by the scammers for identity theft and financial account takeover schemes, among others. Scammers may even convert their victims into unwitting criminals by convincing them to launder and move fraudulent funds, for which the victim is then liable, both financially and potentially criminally.


How These Scams Start

  • Scammer engages with a potential victim via social media, dating applications, messaging applications, or unsolicited “wrong number” text messages.
  • Scammer typically claims to be abroad for work or vacation, or to be from a foreign country.
  • Scammer may offer to exchange photos or videos to reassure the victim.
  • Scammer continually provides excuses as to why they are unable to meet in person, which is usually due to being abroad, having immigration related issues, or lacking money for travel.
  • As the relationship evolves, scammer entices the victim to send personal or financial information, money, gift cards, or electronic devices.

Red Flags

  • Scammer may ask victim to send money for travel or business expenses, family emergencies and needs, or for investment opportunities.
  • Scammer may ask victim to open bank accounts to receive money from business associates for projects or investments.
  • Scammer may ask victim to send phones or other expensive items to addresses in the United States or other countries, for example to help a child in school with a laptop.
  • Scammer may ask victim to purchase gift cards and send pictures of the codes via messaging application.
  • Scammer may ask victim for assistance with an added sense of urgency for medical emergencies, death in the family, legal or tax issues, border detainment, etc.


How to Protect Yourself



  • NEVER send money to someone you have not met in person.

  • NEVER open bank accounts or start businesses on behalf of someone else.

  • NEVER send or receive money on behalf of someone else or to someone else.

  • NEVER share your personal or financial information.

  • Understand that video calls and messaging applications are not enough proof of their real identity.

  • Understand that scammers can engineer proofs using technology (deepfake and artificial intelligence tools), which can appear very convincing.


If you suspect you are a victim of a romance scam, contact your local Secret Service field office.

Click here to download a Secret Service awareness flyer on romance scams for education and distribution purposes.