How to Spot a Relationship Scammer
So far, 2022 has been the year of the scammer, as people—Netflix subscribers to be sure—are officially obsessed with real-life horror stories of successful con artists. In the Netflix documentary "The Tinder Swindler," viewers met Shimon Yehuda Hayut, who told various women he met on Tinder that he was a billionaire diamond merchant. In an elaborate con chronicled in the documentary, he convinced these women he was being hunted by "enemies," and then asked them for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which he promised to pay back.
"Inventing Anna" is another Netflix scammer show based on the true story of Anna Delvey, a young Russian woman who convinced members of New York City's elite—several banks, too—that she was a German heiress.
Both of these stories have several things in common: fake wire transfers, forged documents and promises of repayment, to name just a few. What's most striking is how Hayut and Delvey used emotional bonds of friendship or love to convince people to give them just about everything they had.
It's easy to see why regular viewers become fascinated with stories of relationship scammers. As these two shows demonstrate, emotional fraud can be devastating and have real-world life-changing consequences. And they highlight one of any relationship seeker's greatest fears: that someone you thought you knew better than anyone was lying to you all along.
Relationship scamming doesn't always mean fraud
The Tinder Swindler and Delvey are extreme pre-meditated cases of relationship scamming, but it can happen in more subtle ways, too.
"Besides the obvious, directly extorting money, I receive all sorts of stories of, mostly women, being scammed in other ways," said Emma Ziff, the director of Pink Lobster Matchmaking, an international personal service for women looking for love in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Other common relationship scams include:
- Tricking you into becoming an unpaid nanny or a housekeeper
- Asking you to do something illegal
- Asking for help when they're sick, leaving you to deal with medical bills
- Using you for a visa to another country
Can a relationship scam happen to anyone?
Pernilla Sjoholm, one of Hayut's victims shown in "The Tinder Swindler," told Page Six, "It could happen to anyone who has empathy. Those are the ones that [scammers] target…We are very easy targets."
Empathy is part of the reason why it is easy to fall victim to a relationship scam. But it also has to do with how interpersonal bonds are formed.
"Romance scammers can be hard to spot because your judgment is often clouded by emotions when you are beginning a new relationship," explained Amber Lee, CEO and certified matchmaker at Select Date Society, a high-end luxury matchmaking service with headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. "Your brain releases dopamine and other chemicals when you feel like you are falling in love. Under the influence of these chemicals, it can be difficult to see clearly, much like being under the influence of drugs."
Signs of a relationship scammer
Ziff suggested some red flags everyone look out for, especially if something feels a little off about the person you're dating:
- Their story doesn't add up.
- They don't seem to have family or friends.
- They try to isolate you from your friends and family.
- They try to access your personal information.
- They shower you with praise and compliments early. As Lee put it, "Love-bombing is a clear sign to run the other way! The person behind the love-bombing is often a romance scammer or narcissist. Either way, it's not someone you want to become romantically involved with."
- They often give vague excuses. "If their story sounds like a movie script, it's because it is probably fiction and not reality," Lee said.
- They give you a bad gut feeling.
Relationship scams come in emotional and financial varieties. Our experts have suggestions for how to protect yourself from both.
Trust but verify
These days, most people have an online presence. Even if your partner doesn't have social media, there will probably be some record of them online.
"When you are dating, always use the motto trust, but verify," Lee said. "When your partner tells you something, such as where they work or who they are related to, do a Google search to verify the information is true. You can also check for criminal history and public records using sites such as Been Verified or Truth Finder."
Have a friend assess the situation
Because falling in love sends your brain into a hormonal frenzy, it can be difficult to look at a potentially dangerous situation clearly. Tell a friend or family member about your concerns and they'll be able to give an unbiased opinion.
Consider your partner's other relationships
Neither Hayut nor Anna Delvey had any long-lasting friendships, which should have been a red flag to their victims.
"Look at the relationships surrounding your partner," Lee said. "Most scammers are going to burn bridges with people, so check to see if your partner has close relationships with family and long-lasting friendships. If they don't, you should be concerned."
Don't lend money to a new partner
No matter how much you trust your new partner, never give or loan them money. As Ziff explained, even if they aren't intentionally planning or scamming you, lending money in a new relationship can lead to other problems and tensions in your relationship down the line.
Very few people will fall victim to a full-blown relationship scam like the ones seen in "The Tinder Swindler" or "Inventing Anna." However, the documentaries do offer a cautionary tale about modern dating. It's easier than ever to create a fake persona—and while a new partner may not be trying to extort money from you, they may be scamming you in other ways. So, take things slow and avoid getting swept up in your emotion until your new partner has proved to be trustworthy.