New research from Tessian finds that almost one-third of people have fallen victim to a cyber romance scam, posing a new warning: don’t get cat-phished this Valentine’s Day.

Dating looks a lot different this year as the pandemic has made the internet the main forum to meet new people. This opens the door for bad actors to build relationships online, earning someone’s trust over time before devising a fake cause – such as a plane ticket or medical expense – that requires the other person to wire them money. Tessian’s research shows just how common these scams are, how people are getting scammed and who is most likely to fall for one.

Who is falling victim to romance scams?

  • Almost one-third (29%) have been a victim of a romance scam
  • US respondents are more than 4x more likely to be targeted in a romance scam than UK respondents
  • People aged 45-54 were most likely to be scammed with 37% reporting that they’ve been targeted. People aged 35-44 came in close second with 35% reporting they’ve been targeted by a romance scam. While 27% of those aged 18-24 and 24% of people aged 25-34 report being targeted by a scam. In addition, 25% of people 55+ report being targeted.
  • Those who work in accounting and finance (45%), IT (45%), and the media (50%) were most likely to be targeted in romance scams

How are people being targeted?

  • People were targeted with romance scams via social media and email  (24% and 23% respectively)more than other channels such as mobile dating apps, texting and online dating websites.
  • While 18-24-year-olds fell victim victim to scams on text and WhatsApp (46%), older generations – 45- 54-year-olds and 55+ – were more likely to be targeted on email (25%) and online dating websites, respectively.
  • Men are more likely to fall victim to an email romance scam than women (28% versus 19%, respectively).


Tim Sadler, CEO of Tessian says, "The rise in online romance scams brings a whole new meaning to catfishing. This Valentine’s Day, people should look out for signs that they are getting “cat-phished” as hackers take advantage of the current online-heavy dating climate to forge relationships, build trust, and trick their targets into sharing personal information or money.

"Establishing trust is a key part of deceiving someone online. In advanced social engineering attacks, we often see that cybercriminals will exchange several emails or DMs back and forth to earn their victim’s trust before asking for money or sending them a malicious link. It’s a problem that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, given that people spend more time chatting online and rely on dating apps to connect. A number of reports have shown a spike in fraudulent activity where scammers have cashed in on the “lockdown loneliness.” It’s so important to be wary of how a cybercriminal might manipulate your trust to avoid sharing something you shouldn’t.

"To avoid falling victim to a cyber romance scam this Valentine’s Day, keep in mind the following:

  • Never send money or a gift to someone who you haven’t met in person.
  • Be suspicious of any request from someone you’ve met on the internet. Scammers will often ask for money via wire transfers or reload cards because they’re difficult to reverse.
  • Be wary of any email or direct message you receive from someone you don’t know. Never click on a link or download an attachment from an unusual address.
  • Keep social media profiles and posts private. Don’t accept friend requests or DMs from people you don’t know personally. 

Tom Pendergast, Chief Learning Officer at MediaPRO, says, "Reputable dating websites work hard to keep their services safe, but sometimes scammers slip by. But you don’t need to be a detective to find out if that person chatting you up is really a criminal. Here are some tips to keep your data, your money and your heart, secure:

Check Your Online Profile: Before you ever start dating online, you should get your own online presence in order. Scammers will learn as much as possible about your interests, background, and life story. The more you share, the more your information might be used to gain your trust.

Do Some Research: If you find someone on a dating website that catches your eye, search for them on the internet. Maybe they’re on LinkedIn or Facebook. See if their story matches up, and especially if their photos are real. Scammers sometimes use pictures of attractive, lesser-known actors or models to catch your eye. Some search engines can let you do a “reverse search” of images that can help uncover a fake.

Message in the App: Dating services usually give you the option to send secure messages via their platform. Using it keeps your personal information safe and helps track down a scammer if you fall prey to fraud. Never give out personal information like your email or phone number until after you’ve met with the person and know they’re safe.

Watch for the Warning Signs: Criminals are creative, but most romance scams have some things in common: distance. Many scammers will tell you that they want to meet in person, but then always comes up with an excuse why they can’t. They might pose as military personnel, or a professional who is “working overseas,” and can’t meet in person. If you haven’t met the person after a month or two, you should be extremely skeptical.

When Money Comes Up: Eventually, scammers will make a play on your bank account. This will be disguised as something meaningful and connected to your relationship. A loan to start a business (that they’re going to open with you), plane tickets (so they can come visit you), medical bills (to help your future stepchild), an investment opportunity (that they’ll make in your name). There’s no shortage of lies … but your response should be the same. Never give money to someone you haven’t met in person.

Don’t Get Isolated: Scammers will try to isolate you from family and friends, making themselves your entire world. Don’t let that happen. Make sure you keep trustworthy people in your life who have your back. Share that suspicious message or unusual request with them, and work together to stop a scam before it ends in heartbreak.

Pendergast adds, "There will always be fraudsters and crooks among the true-hearted seekers of love and a meaningful relationship. No one’s immune to being manipulated, but we can all stay safe by showing skepticism. Be conscious of your own vulnerability. You went into this dating thing to be open to new people, but that doesn’t mean you should check your inherent skepticism of odd requests or weird behavior."