How to keep yourself safe from online dating romance scams

By the Counseling Department

A romance scam occurs when a criminal or a criminal gang creates a fake online profile and feigns romantic interest in another online user. They often target lonely victims looking for love and romance on dating websites, social media accounts, classified sites and other online forums. They work to develop a relationship as quickly as possible. A romance scam involves feigning romantic intentions towards a victim, gaining the victim's affection, and then using that goodwill to get the victim to send money to the scammer under false pretenses or to commit fraud against the victim. Fraudulent acts may involve access to the victim's money, bank accounts, credit cards, passports, e-mail accounts, or national identification numbers; or forcing the victims to commit financial fraud on their behalf.

These scams are often perpetrated by organized criminal gangs, who work together to take money from multiple victims at a time.
Does it happen in Nairobi or in Kenya? Yes, it does and some of our students have been victims.

5 Ways to Spot a Romance Scammer

  1. Quick to call it love - The goal is to manipulate victim emotionally as quickly as possible before they realize they are being scammed. They also use endearing love terms such as “dear” etc. Scammers are very adept at knowing how to "play" their victims – sending love poems, sex games on emails, building up a "loving relationship" with many promises of "one day we will be married".
  2. Their profile contains vague or few images across platforms - They often impersonate someone else by creating personal profiles using stolen photographs of attractive people for the purpose of asking others to contact them. This is often known as catfishing. They are likely to have few pictures of person they are impersonating.
  3. Asks for money - They are skilled at making up believable stories, such as an emergency to manipulate victim to send money. No matter how convincing the reason, it’s likely you are being scammed.
  4. Scammer wants to move to a more personal communication platform - Dating sites have parameters to detect scammers. Therefore, scammers may try to get private communication through email or text. This is a dangerous step. The safest action is to continue communicating through public app till you meet them in person. If they pressure you to give your telephone number, consider it a red flag.
  5. The scammers make promises to meet in person but rarely meet the victims face to face or even in a video call. They deceive their intended victims by making plausible-sounding excuses about their unwillingness to show their faces, such as by saying that they cannot meet yet because they are temporarily traveling or have a broken web camera. When they plan for a meet up, scammers use emergencies to keep you interested and prevent you from questioning their identity.
  6. Their stories are elaborate and emotional quite convincing to someone blinded. These fabricated emergencies lead them to ask for financial help. Communications are exchanged between the scammer and victim over a period of time until the scammer feels they have connected with the victim enough to ask for money. Scammers prey on the victims' false sense of a relationship to lure them into sending money. They request for money for their airplane ticket, fuel or other emergencies.
  7. Victims may be invited to travel to the scammer's country; in some cases, the victims arrive with asked-for gift money for family members or bribes for corrupt officials, only to be beaten and robbed or murdered.
  8. The scam usually ends when the victim realizes they are being scammed or stops sending money.

How to Protect Yourself from Romance Scammers

  • Pay attention to red flags-pay attention to what you see as off things and follow your intuition. A genuine interest will understand and appreciate your cautiousness and safety. Scammers urge you to trust them no matter what.
  • Allow relationships to develop slowly and naturally-It’s natural to want to experience a storybook romance. But authentic relationships develop over time. If the person is moving too quickly, consider it a red flag.
  • Set up video chat to verify identity-since scammers take identity of someone else, one easy way to verify is a video chat.
  • Research person you are messaging-research your cyber sweetheart on other platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn etc. You can also do a reverse image search using a photo of them. Download and right click to copy then paste image URL. If image appears on a stock photo site, they might just be a scammer.
  • Never send money to someone you don’t really know-develop a full trusting relationship with someone before you send money. If an online partner is asking for money, report to authorities.
  • Share feelings with trusted family or friend-sometimes it’s difficult to see manipulation when it is happening in the moment. It’s always good to share. Even if you can’t see suspicious activity, consulting someone can view it from another perspective.

What to do when scammed

  1. Trust your intuition completely and stop communication immediately lest you reveal personal information or get entangled with scammers’ tactics.
  2. If money has been sent, try to see if it can be recovered; either through Mpesa or just get another source of money transfer.
  3. Report the scammer to telephone line service e.g.: Safaricom, Airtel in order for them to be blocked.
  4. Remember, falling victim can happen to anyone. It’s normal to feel ashamed and embarrassed, remember perfectly intelligent people get scammed every day.
  5. Talking about your experience lessens the pain and helps protect others in future.

Source: What to Know About Romance Scams | Consumer Advice (

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