Not all online romances work out, but those involving imposters and fakers may lead to more than just heartbreaks …

Romance scams have been on the rise since 2020, when the pandemic first hit the world.

With their physical mobility and social interactions curtailed, many people became more vulnerable to ruses involving online relationships, flings and (fill in the blanks with your imagination).

Last year, law enforcement agencies from Singapore and Malaysia worked together to track down a group specializing in romance scams. The syndicate was allegedly behind at least eight scams in both countries.

Also, research by Kaspersky shows that 45% of respondents in their South-east Asia survey had lost money because of online love scams. Most of the incidents in the region cost less than US$100 (22%). However, the victims’ age and the possible cost of a romance scam seems to be overlapping: the two oldest generations (Baby Boomer and Silent Generation) logged the highest percentage, both at 33%.

The most senior age group, on the other hand, lost the most with nearly two in five of them admitting to losing US$5,000–10,000. Lastly, a small portion (8%) of Gen Z indicated that they had lost more than US$10,000 from romance-related scams.

Signs of a romance scam

According to says Chris Connell, Managing Director (Asia Pacific), Kaspersky, older folks tend to have more time and retirement funds in their bank accounts, and can be more reckless in online dating and related activities.

“The cases we’ve seen lately should serve as a reminder for us to keep our minds ‘on’ even as we listen to our hearts. Because nothing is more painful than having a fake lover and an empty wallet, we urge everyone from all ages to remain vigilant and be better in discerning the authenticity of the relationships we are building online and offline,” said Connell.

Regardless of platform or app, the public should check for these warning signs if the person at the other end:

  • demonstrates strong emotions for you in a very short time
  • prompts to move away from the current dating site or app into private channels
  • seems to vary in personality inconsistently: scammers sometimes operate in teams, with different people hiding behind one identity
  • does not have a digital footprint, or provides you with what smells like a fabricated persona. To be fair, we know that some people do not use social media and try to minimize the amount of personal information about them on the internet. However, be wary when you cannot find any trace of a person online
  • does not accept video calls or face-to-face meetings. The obvious reason is that they do not look like the person in their profile picture. They also want to avoid being identified to prevent being tracked down afterwards
  • asks for money or other financially-linked favors based on personal hardship such as a sick relative or a failed business

Best practices for safe e-romancing

Avoiding romance scams means carefully scrutinizing any online relationship that develops too fast. Here are some more ways to keep your heart and wallet safe:

  • When using social media sites, do not accept friend requests from people you do not know.
  • Avoid revealing too much personal information in a dating profile or to someone you have chatted with only online.
  • Take things slowly. Ask your potential partner questions and watch out for inconsistencies that can reveal a faker.
  • Use reputable dating sites and keep communicating through their messaging service. Fraudsters will want you to switch to text, social media or phone quickly, so that there is no evidence on the dating site of them asking you for money.
  • Take things slowly. Ask your potential partner questions and watch out for inconsistencies that can reveal an impostor.
  • Never give money to someone unless you also have a verified-genuine relationship with them offline.
  • If you do make a date with someone outside of cyberspace, be sure to let people in your life know where you will be, to be on the safe side.