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Romance scams explained: how WebPurify identifies and halts deceptive practices

May 22, 2024 | UGC

Romance scams rank among the most common and emotionally devastating forms of online fraud, and they are growing not only in frequency but also in sophistication. Romance scams are the costliest form of online scams, according to the Federal Trade Commission, with the 64,003 reported cases in the US alone resulting in more than $1.14 billion in losses.

With advances in technology, such as generative AI, scammers have enhanced their ability to create believable profiles and narratives that are increasingly difficult to distinguish from reality.

These deceptive practices prey on people seeking connections and are engineered by fraudsters who meticulously craft alluring profiles to form romantic relationships with unsuspecting users, only to defraud them later. Armed with fake or stolen photographs and convincing narratives, these scammers play a long game, engaging in emotional manipulation to extract money, gifts, or sensitive personal information from their targets.

In this blog, we’ll explore the mechanics of romance scams, offer practical tips for detection, and highlight how WebPurify’s cutting-edge moderation technology is essential in safeguarding users against these complex threats.

Romance Scams

What is a romance scam?

A romance scam is a deceptive tactic used by fraudsters to exploit individuals looking for companionship or romantic relationships online. These scammers create fake profiles on dating websites, social media platforms, and other online forums, using attractive photos (often stolen) and crafting compelling life stories designed to lure in their targets.

The ultimate goal of these criminals is not companionship but financial gain. They spend considerable time cultivating relationships and emotional connections, only to eventually manipulate their victims into sending them money, revealing personal or financial information, or investing in fraudulent schemes. These scams not only lead to financial losses but also cause significant emotional distress to the victims.

How romance scams work

The process typically begins with the fraudster creating a fake but highly appealing profile. As we discussed in our previous blog about moderating dating platforms, WebPurify employs sophisticated tactics to quickly identify and flag these fraudulent profiles.

However, if a platform doesn’t have effective content moderation and a scammer’s profile evades detection, they can proceed to build trust and forge an emotional connection with their target. This bond is often accelerated by scammers professing profound feelings, or even love, prematurely in order to secure a deep, emotional investment from their victim.

Eventually, the scammer may introduce a fabricated crisis, such as a severe health issue or a business emergency, using this scenario to justify their requests for financial help. There’s also a growing trend where scammers coax victims into fraudulent investment schemes, particularly in cryptocurrencies, promising substantial returns that never materialize.

A hallmark of these scams is the scammer’s adamant refusal to meet in person or engage in video calls, frequently citing various excuses to avoid exposure.

What are the types of romance scams

Romance scams can take many forms, but the most common types that we come across at WebPurify are what are called Catfishing and Pig Butchering.

What is catfishing?

Catfishing involves the creation of a fake profile designed to deceive others. Many apps seek to avoid this by instituting a user verification process. Verification can look like several things, but the most common approach is asking a user to take a selfie of themselves (sometimes mimicking a hand gesture, other times not), and then having a moderator check to ensure the selfie matches the profile photos.

Some dating apps have also been known to ask for government-issued ID, but larger apps typically don’t. There are many reasons for this, such as data privacy concerns (potential for data breaches), user experience/accessibility, and anonymity reasons (being gay is illegal in some countries, for example).

WebPurify often works with dating apps to stop catfishing by validating the selfie images to help approve new users at scale and speed.

What is pig butchering?

Pig butchering is a complex financial fraud where trust is built over time, and the victim is persuaded to invest in fake opportunities. The scam involves building trust with a victim using manipulation tactics, and then introducing a bogus investment opportunity. Fraudsters will typically try to get the victim off the app as soon as possible so that the app has a harder time detecting the abuse.

WebPurify’s approach to stopping pig butchering involves several layers of moderation.We start with user verification, which helps weed out fraudsters who are pretending to be someone they’re not. Our AI can also detect solicitations to receive payment outside of the platform, and other scammy language.

Also, our live moderation team is trained to look at the holistic riskiness of a user, considering things like if their IP address is from a country outside of where they purport to be based, if their log-in credentials (e.g. email, phone number, etc.) are tied to multiple accounts, or if they have a high number of user reports. There are many signals that can help a moderator assess the overall riskiness of a user.

How to identify romance scams

Identifying romance scams involves vigilance and an understanding of common red flags. One initial step is to scrutinize the consistency of a user profile. Ensure that the details shared on the profile align with what is communicated during conversations; any discrepancies in stories or a reluctance to provide more details should raise concerns.

Perhaps most importantly, the pace of a developing relationship can often be the most telltale sign; be wary of individuals who profess their love or push the relationship to progress unusually quickly.

Protecting your personal and financial information is also important. If someone asks for this information, it’s another glaring red flag. Never share sensitive details, particularly with someone you have never met in person.

Finally, be skeptical of individuals who consistently find excuses to avoid face-to-face meetings or video calls. These evasions are often tactics used by scammers to maintain their anonymity while continuing their deception.

How WebPurify stops romance scams in their tracks

WebPurify’s content moderation capabilities are constantly evolving to identify and confront the latest techniques used by romance scammers. Our AI-driven systems, coupled with a skilled team of live moderators, analyze various risk factors such as geographical inconsistencies and multiple account connections.

We also verify identity through user-submitted photos and monitor for any solicitation of transactions outside the platform. This comprehensive approach ensures a safer online dating experience.

Romance scams are a pressing issue in the world of online dating, particularly as technology like generative AI develops and enables deceptions to seem more real. Awareness is always the first step toward protection, but for platform owners, awareness will only get you so far.

To truly combat the threat posed by romance scammers and keep your users safe, you need to have a robust verification system for new users and a content moderation strategy that can adapt to both new technology and growth in your user base.

Platforms that prioritize user safety through stringent moderation practices like those employed by WebPurify can better safeguard their users against the emotional and financial damages caused by these deceitful schemes.