Swiping right is like a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. You could land with a ghost, a gem, or a fraudster who’s not interested in stealing your heart but your cryptocurrency.
Romance scams have been breaking hearts and emptying bank accounts since the advent of online dating in the 1990s. In 2021 alone, the FTC received 56,000 reports of romance scams and losses totaling $547 million. Compared to just four years earlier, total losses increased by 500%.1
Cryptocurrency romance scams are a relatively new evolution of the scheme. Here’s what you should know and signs that may indicate you’re communicating with a manipulative crypto thief.
What Is a Cryptocurrency Romance Scam?
A cryptocurrency romance scam is an online scheme where a cybercriminal forges romantic relationships through online platforms to trick people into handing over crypto assets. Conversations may begin on social media platforms or dating apps. After a few days, weeks, or – if the criminal is patient – months of communicating, the scammer uses their manufactured romantic bond to guilt their target into sending cryptocurrency. The criminal will often tug on heartstrings with made-up sad stories to explain what they’ll use the money for. They may ask for a few hundred to thousands of dollars’ worth of crypto. Once they’ve received payment, they may continue the charade of a relationship to attempt to weasel more money, or they may “end the relationship” and disappear to try their luck with someone else.
Artificial intelligence text generators like ChatGPT make juggling multiple love scams at once easier and quicker for scammers. Instead of using their brain to think up “heartfelt” proclamations of love, they can ask an AI program to do the work for them.
In crypto romance plots specifically, the criminal will ask for payment in cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. In general, you should be skeptical of any person or organization that asks for payment in crypto. Cryptocurrency is famously untraceable, meaning that once it hits someone else’s crypto wallet, there’s no way to get it back or ascertain the real identity of the account holder. Unlike a bank account that a real person with a valid Social Security Number must open, crypto does not have such requirements. The anonymity is what makes crypto the preferred payment type of nefarious characters.
In a 14-month span, cryptocurrency romance scams accounted for $185 million in crypto losses.2 And that figure only accounts for filed reports. It’s possible that some people are still in the swirls of a scam or are too embarrassed to report the crime.
How to Identify a Crypto Scam
There are three tell-tale signs of an online crypto dating scam. If you encounter any of these scenarios, begin to ask more probing questions. If you’re unsatisfied with the answers or the person you’re communicating with becomes defensive, you may want to consider blocking this person on your device and removing them from your life.
1. A fast-moving relationship.
The getting-to-know-you phase of any new relationship is exciting and interesting. Even in this day and age of accelerated courtship and constant communication via texting, social media direct messages, and dating apps, this important phase takes time. If someone you’ve never met in person tells you they love you after just a few conversations, be wary of their compliments. Love-at-first-direct-message isn’t real.
2. Refusal to meet in person or over video.
Refusing or constantly postponing in-person meetings is a major red flag. Catfish – or someone using fake photos and/or backstories to deceive others online – often make all kinds of excuses to avoid showing their face. Excuses range from illness, family or work obligations, to the burdensome cost of travel. When two people have a deep connection based on genuine love, they’ll make the necessary compromises to show their real face.
3. Fixation on crypto assets and the future.
Romance scammers may constantly lament their financial woes and say how they wished money wasn’t a problem. To gain sympathy, they may claim to have a sick family member or pet who needs expensive medical treatment. At this point, the scammer will hope that the target offers to send money, or the scammer may sheepishly request money outright. To keep targets from growing suspicious or resentful, the scammer is often overly thankful and promises to never ask for money again; however, they always do. Never share your crypto wallet private key with anyone, and immediately be on alert if someone you met online and have never met in person asks for payment in crypto.
Protect Your Assets, Identity, and Heart
Everyone who’s ever endured a breakup hates this saying for its maddening simplicity, but its message is true: There are other fish in the sea. Literally billions. Everyone deserves a partner who respects their time and needs. If the person on the other side of the screen is taking more than they’re giving, it’s time to say goodbye.
A partner who will never let you down is McAfee+ Ultimate. This all-in-one device, privacy, and identity protection service lets you live your best online life confidently. In case you ever fall victim to identity theft or you suspect your credit is compromised, you’re protected with credit lock, security freeze, and up to $1 million in identity theft coverage.
So, this Valentine’s Day, slow down and evaluate each new match for the robustness of their messages, not their “photo,” “job,” or “grand future plans.” Be careful in that harsh dating world and never settle for mediocre. The perfect person is out there somewhere!
1Federal Trade Commission, “Reports of romance scams hit record highs in 2021”
2Federal Trade Commission, “Reports show scammers cashing in on crypto craze”
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