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How to know if your online boyfriend is a scammer: study


If someone’s dating profile seems too good to be true, it could be because they are.

Scientists have narrowed down the crucial markers of a liar while swiping for dates online and outlined the “stages” of a romantic fraudster’s con.

“Romance fraud continues to be a growing problem, and research in this space is important to reduce victimization,” Dr. Lynsay A. Shepherd, whose work on the subject was pre-published on arXiv, told Tech Xplore in a Thursday report.

This type of dating scam has become commonplace in the last decade, said Shepherd, who hopes that by spreading awareness of the warning signs her research colleagues can prevent more cybercrime incidents.

Shepherd, along with co-authors Alexander Bilz and Professor Graham Johnson, screened hundreds of studies to come up with a comprehensive review of how romantic fraudulence takes place.


Person holding smartphone with heart.
Scammers tend to approach victims in three “stages.”
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Scammers usually come off as hopeless romantics, employing tactics such as curiosity, flattery, pet names and poetic overtures to emotionally manipulate their victims, making them believe their online relationship is genuine.

Researchers also identified some of the typical profile characteristics that fraudsters use as online fronts, such as boasting a military affiliation or describing themselves as “God-fearing,” and may also fabricate past “tragedies,” such as being widowed, to endear themselves to victims.

As for their victims, they’re usually well-educated, single women aged between 35 and 54 years old. Their targets may also be the sort who have poor computer skills; are seeking love abroad; or have impulsive tendencies.

Romantic scammers usually start by initiating a conversation with their victims, before swiftly attempting to strike up an online relationship.

Once they have their victims emotionally “hooked” and invested in a virtual relationship, they cinch the swindle by asking for money using “emotional and visceral language,” the report described.


Someone holding smartphone with dating app on it.
Scientists have warned against falling too hard and fast after meeting someone online.
Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic saw a “surge” of romance fraud, Shepherd noted, which helped bring this report to fruition and “serve as a starting point for future research in the field.”

To further combat this type of cybercrime, experts recommend introducing machine systems that can identify linguistic patterns associated with dating scams and creating resources that can help victims identify whether a profile is fake.

“Researchers, online dating sites and law enforcement need to work together to solve the problems related to romance scams,” Shepherd said. “Scammers are continually coming up with new ways to defraud people, therefore it is vital to research and find new ways to protect people from these scams e.g., better training, awareness programs, and detection of scams.”



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