The psychology of romance scams: What makes people vulnerable to these scams, and how do scammers exploit their victims’ emotions?

social media, facebook, online dating, romance scams, online dating scams

Cases of romance scams are skyrocketing, according to Truecaller. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), people have reported losing a staggering $1.3 billion to romance scams in the past five years. This is more than any other FTC fraud category. In 2021 alone, reported losses hit a record $547 million. The number of reported scams has increased significantly in recent years, with around 73,000 cases of romance scams being reported in the United States in 2022.

What are romance scams?

You open your Facebook inbox and you find a long message from an unknown ‘lover’ that reads:

“Hi, am blah blah. I am a pilot attached to UK aviation. I am always busy flying planes from one country to another. As such, I’ve not had time to settle down in marriage. Am 30—and single. Could you be my lover? Looking at your profile, I can attest you’re a perfect … for me.”

Yes, there you’re! If a deal sounds too good, then … Apparently, you’re dealing with a romance scammer.

But, what exactly are romance scams?

Romance scams are a type of online fraud that involves pretending to be interested in a romantic relationship with someone. This usually happens through a dating website or app, social media, or email.

The scammers use various techniques to gain the trust and affection of their targets. And eventually ask them for money, personal information, or other favors.

Romance scams take place when someone believes they have made a connection or match through an online dating site or app – but the person they are talking to is, in fact, a scammer using a fake profile. 


But why do people fall for these scams? And how do scammers manipulate their victims’ emotions to get what they want?

What makes people vulnerable to romance scams?

There are several factors that can make people more susceptible to romance scams, such as:

  • Loneliness. People who feel lonely or lack social support may be more likely to seek companionship online. And may be more willing to overlook red flags or inconsistencies in their online partners’ stories.
  • Social isolation. People who are isolated from their friends, family, or community may have fewer sources of validation, feedback, or reality checks. And may be more dependent on their online partners for emotional support and connection.
  • Low self-esteem. People who have low self-esteem or confidence may be more easily flattered by the attention and compliments of their online partners. Furthermore, they may be more reluctant to question their motives or authenticity.
  • Financial insecurity. People who are struggling financially may be more tempted by the promises of wealth, stability, or generosity of their online partners. They may also be more willing to send them money or gifts in exchange for love or gratitude.
  • Lack of awareness of romance scams. People who are unaware of the prevalence and tactics of romance scams may be more naïve or trusting of their online partners. Additionally, they may not recognize the signs of a scam or know how to protect themselves from it.
  • Romantic beliefs and ideals. People who have strong romantic beliefs and ideals may be more prone to idealize their online partners. And may project their own hopes and fantasies onto them. In addition, they may also be more likely to ignore or rationalize any discrepancies or contradictions in their online partners’ behavior or stories.

How do scammers exploit their victims’ emotions?

Scammers use various psychological manipulation tactics to exploit their victims’ emotions, such as:

Love bombing

Love bombing is a manipulative tactic used by scammers to gain the trust of their victims. It involves showering the victim with excessive affection, praise, and attention to create a sense of intimacy and attachment.

The scammer may also express strong feelings of love or commitment early on in the relationship, making their victim feel special and desired.

Some common signs of love bombing include:

  • Showering you with unneeded/unwanted gifts
  • Over-communication of their feelings for you
  • Early and intense talks about your future together
scam, dating scam, dating fraud, romance scams


Mirroring is a manipulative tactic used by scammers to gain the trust of their victims. It involves mimicking their victims’ interests, opinions, values, and goals to create a sense of similarity and compatibility.

The scammer may also use personal details or stories from their victims’ profiles or conversations to make them feel understood and appreciated.


Scammers gradually build trust and loyalty with their victims, making them feel comfortable and safe. They may also ask for small favors or gifts at first, testing their victims’ willingness to help or please them.

They may also share personal or emotional information about themselves, making their victims feel closer to them and more sympathetic towards them.


Scammers manipulate their victims’ perception of reality, making them doubt their own judgment and memory. Further, they may also lie, deny, or contradict facts or evidence that expose their scam, making their victims feel confused and guilty.

Additionally, they may also accuse their victims of being overly suspicious, ungrateful, or dishonest, making them feel ashamed and defensive.

Social isolation

Social isolation is a manipulative tactic used by scammers to gain control over their victims. It involves isolating the victim from their friends, family, or community, making them more dependent on the scammer for emotional support and connection.

The scammer may also discourage or sabotage the victim’s relationships with others, making them feel lonely and alienated. They may also create a sense of urgency or secrecy around their relationship, making their victim feel special and exclusive.

Financial exploitation

Once they have gained confidence of their victims, scammers eventually ask for money or other favors from their victims—using various excuses or stories to justify their requests.

They may also create fake emergencies or crises that require immediate financial assistance from their victims. They may also use emotional manipulation techniques such as guilt-tripping, threatening, blackmailing, or rewarding to persuade their victims to comply with their demands.

Cases of how scammers have exploited victims’ emotions

These comments were extracted from Federal Trade Consumer (FTC)—without alteration for cautionary purposes about the now rampant romance scams. Read the whole article HERE.

“I met a man he says he is 54 engineer for Ships has a son is widowed. he was in Germany wanted $$ , then in Mexico got caught smuggling drugs lmao and is still talking to me from google hangouts. Always asks for the money in bitcoin! I have given this man so much money very good looking man with grey hair brown eyes. No more how do I report this man?!”

“Kathryn I believe this is the same guy who has been communicating with me. He is on a project in Turkey and an engineer. Short money to get home. As soon as he get the remaining 10,000 he will come back to the states. Wants to marry me. Asked for money to get bitcoin, then asked if I could open new account because his bank is frozen because hacked, then asked if I could wire some money to help with the 10,000 owed so he can finally come home and marry me. Said he has a son and mom dying. He said he could not webcam or Skype because he could not from Turkey. Cancelled flying to see me 3 times because of this project and the money he has to come up with. The photo looks young but his voice sounds like an older man in his 60’s. Says he is French but sounds like he is Mexican.”

“Have had a scammer contact me through Claims name is Luiz Macias and that he is an army surgeon in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan! Wife died 2 years ago in a car crash and he has a son 9 years old Michael in boarding school. He put a poem on the website which he claimed he had written but when I googled I found this was written by a lady called Nicolette. He called me ‘Sunshine’ as well and claimed he lived in Oregon. I have a couple of photos but doubt it is him.”

“OMG! I talked to an orthopedic surgeon stuck in Syria who has a son in boarding school. He tried to hit me up for $4400 to get out of Syria but I blocked and deleted him. Sounds like the same guy. I had to block him on Skype that he liked to chat on.”

How to protect yourself from romance scams

Here are some steps that you can take to protect yourself from romance scams:

  • Be cautious of anyone who contacts you online and expresses strong feelings or interest in you quickly—especially if they claim to be from another country or have a reason to travel frequently.
  • Do some research on your online partner before getting too involved. You can use search engines, reverse image search, or other tools to check their photos, profiles, stories, or documents for any inconsistencies or signs of a scam.
  • Never send money or gifts to anyone you have not met in person. Also avoid giving out any personal or financial information that could be used to access my accounts or identity.
  • Talk to someone you trust about your online relationship.
  • Report any suspicious or fraudulent activity to the website or app where you met your online partner. If you’re a USA citizen/resident or you were defrauded by a USA citizen/resident, you can report the case to the FTC or the FBI.
  • Block or cut off contact with the scammer.


Romance scams are a serious and costly problem that affect millions of people around the world. Scammers exploit their victims’ emotions by using psychological manipulation tactics such as love bombing, mirroring, grooming, gaslighting, social isolation, and financial exploitation.

These tactics can make their victims more vulnerable, dependent, and loyal to them, and more willing to send them money or other favors.

To prevent romance scams and help victims recover, it is important to raise awareness of the prevalence and tactics of these scams. And to provide support and resources for those who have been affected by them.

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