What crypto romance scams are and how to avoid them

Romance scams have been around for some time, and now often use crypto as their means of defrauding victims. This is a form of confidence trick that involves a scammer faking romantic intentions with the victim. The aim is to create an emotionally intimate relationship to persuade the victim to hand over their money, digital assets, or personal information.

Although relatively common, it's not difficult to spot the telltale signs of a crypto romance scam. In this article, we'll walk you through what a crypto romance scam is and explain how you can protect yourself.

Need to know

  • Crypto romance scams attempt to build trust in victims through claims of romantic interest — before convincing them to share their assets.

  • This scam almost always begins via online platforms such as dating apps and social media. Be cautious if a stranger contacts you unsolicited through these channels.

  • Scammers typically make claims about some form of financial hardship or supposedly lucrative crypto opportunity before requesting assets or funds.

  • Crypto is becoming a common target for romance scams because of the anonymous and irreversible nature of transactions recorded on the blockchain.

What is the crypto romance scam?

Romance scams use the emotional pull and excitement of a potential romantic relationship to build trust in a victim and ultimately lead them towards giving up digital assets or money. Often, the scam involves some form of situation the scammer needs help with — typically financial help — which the victim feels obliged to provide because of their budding relationship.

For example, the scammer may claim to be facing financial strain after losing their job, a family member may be sick and medical bills need to be paid, or the scammer has an enticing business opportunity that requires capital. The scammer often builds a fake profile using images sourced from the internet to convince their victims they're legitimate. In the case of a fraudulent crypto investment, the scammer may also share fake documents claiming to show a return on the funds shared by the victim, encouraging them to continue investing or hand over larger amounts.

Ultimately, the relationship and all contact usually ends abruptly once the victim shows suspicions or the scammer feels they've exploited the opportunity as much as possible.

Why do people fall for the crypto romance scam?

The crypto romance scam relies on victims discarding logic because of the excitement of a potential romantic relationship and the professing of love from the scammer. As a confidence scam, the trick involves emotional manipulation and false trust to lead victims towards action that benefits the scammer. That's why this scam usually targets individuals who may be isolated or facing loneliness.

Meanwhile, the scam typically involves some form of supposed hardship on the side of the scammer which the victim often feels obliged to help with — particularly once the romance has taken root. Here, victims are more likely to let their guard down and share their funds or digital assets. Sometimes, the victim may sense something is wrong but choose not to seek help out of embarrassment and judgment from others, trapping them in the scam.

Breaking down the crypto romance scam

Here we'll walk through a hypothetical example of how the crypto romance scam can materialize, to help you avoid falling victim yourself.

  • Paul receives a message from Mary through one of his social channels. Mary — whose profile suggests is successful and attractive — begins to build a relationship with Paul, lavishing him with attention and compliments.

  • Paul begins to form a romantic connection, as the two share personal information and stories about lives. However, when Paul requests a video call or face-to-face meeting with Mary, there's always an excuse why it can't happen. A poor internet connection, a lack of funds to travel.

  • Regardless, trust has been built, and Mary confides in Paul that her mother is unwell. She claims the family doesn't have the money to cover medical bills, and despite her success, she's unable to access her bank account. Mary asks Paul to pay the medical bills, but claims only crypto can be used. Apparently, her mother is in another country where money transfers are slow and expensive.

  • Wanting to help, Paul is convinced by Mary to set up a crypto wallet, purchase BTC, and send it to her.

  • In the following weeks, Mary makes repeated requests for further BTC to cover new medical bills and other expenses, which Paul provides.

  • Suddenly Mary disappears, cutting off all contact with Paul, who has no way of accessing or returning the funds he's given.

How to protect yourself from the crypto romance scam

With a little diligence and critical thought, you can protect yourself from the crypto romance scam explained above.

  • Be suspicious of any unsolicited messages received on social media, dating apps, and messaging apps — especially if the individual is overly complementary and attempts to move the conversation forward quickly.

  • Don't trust anyone whose identity you're not able to verify personally. Social media and search engines can be used to verify an individual's identity. For example, completing a reverse image search of shared photos should reveal if the image has been taken from another profile.

  • Guard your personal and financial information closely. Never shared sensitive data with someone online who you've never met. As a general rule, never send money over the internet — especially to a new contact. In the case of peer-to-peer exchanges, always use a trusted platform.

  • If you have any suspicions about a relationship formed online, get a second opinion from a friend or family member about its legitimacy.

5 warning signs of the crypto romance scam

  1. Unsolicited attention: Be cautious if someone strikes up a conversation with you unsolicited, complements you excessively, and suggests they have romantic intentions.

  2. Requests for support via crypto: Be suspicious if an individual you're talking to makes claims of financial hardship and requests crypto to help.

  3. No voice or video calls: It's a major red flag if someone is showering you with attention and requesting financial help but makes repeated excuses when asked for a voice or video call.

  4. Inconsistent or contradictory information: Instances where an individual shares inconsistent or contradictory information about their identity or their circumstances is another warning that something isn't right.

  5. High pressure tactics: Often, romance scammers will exert pressure on their victims by stressing the urgency of sending over funds or assets. This is a way of leading victims to abandon logic and make a knee-jerk decision. Be cautious if someone is pressuring you into handing over your money or crypto assets.

The final word

Many romance scams now target crypto holders given the speed with which assets can be transferred, and the irreversible and anonymous nature of blockchain technology. The scam usually takes root on digital platforms where scammers can set up fake profiles and target a large number of individuals at once.

Protecting yourself from crypto romance scams and other forms of fraud starts by being diligent, skeptical, and understanding the tactics employed by cybercriminals. It's therefore wise to keep yourself up to date with the latest tactics used by scam artists and communicate the same to others to help them avoid the same threats.

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