Crypto romance scams usually happen when scammers meet vulnerable individuals on online dating platforms and pose to be real love-seekers with the intention of swindling and extorting crypto from their potential victims.
In this article, we will highlight some online dating scams and discuss in detail, how to discover and protect yourself from online dating scams.
The popular Netflix show Tinder Swindler did not feature any cryptocurrency scams. But its charismatic leader, Simon Leviev, could work well as a crypto dating scammer – all it takes is a little trust, the promise of lucrative cryptocurrency payouts, and a credulity many believe is among us.
According to a February 2022 report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), romance scammers scammed cryptocurrency victims worth $139 million in the past year.
Crypto romance scammers don’t just target those who are actively searching for apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge. They could message you on Instagram or even WhatsApp claiming it was an accident
How Online Dating Crypto Scammers Operate
Crypto dating scammers invest a lot of time in their victims and nurture a relationship until they feel trust has been established and the victim is ready to be taken advantage of.
As these sinister tactics become more popular, it pays to be on the lookout for warning signs and remain vigilant.
Most crypto dating scams follow the pattern called “pig butchering” or “sha zhu pan” in Chinese, ostensibly because scammers are constantly sneaking around and making their victims feel good before tricking them into losing their money just like a farmer fattens a pig before slaughtering it.
In many reported cases, scammers spend weeks or months in a relationship before mentioning cryptocurrencies and their potential.
Anyone using the internet is at risk of cryptocurrency scams, not just those with cryptocurrency investments.
In fact, scammers go to great lengths to guide you through your first cryptocurrency purchase through legitimate exchanges like Coinbase or Binance as seen in the screenshot shared with Coinscreed below.
From there it’s all downhill.
This type of psychological manipulation is called “social engineering” and crypto social engineering scams even hit the founders of experienced crypto projects.
The crypto romance scam is almost the same as the previous method
Before cryptocurrencies became the main tool of choice for butchers, scammers convinced their victims to buy gift cards online.
These cards offered less consumer protection than cash transfers, which is perfect for scammers.
Then came cryptocurrency with its promise of self-custody and little to no customer protection, even better!
Some scams are as simple as sending cryptocurrencies to strangers who have established a trusting relationship with their victims.
The old advice about not sending gift cards to strangers online also applies to cryptocurrencies.
But there are other forms of scams where the victim doesn’t even send cryptocurrencies directly to the scammer.
Promises of lucrative return on investments
The Global Anti-Scam Organization maintains a long list of commonly used scam sites, many of which involve cryptocurrencies.
The scammer will likely ask you to create an account on one of these websites controlled by your fellow scammers, giving you a false sense of security as the websites look legit.
Scammers can also talk about lucrative gains through “cash pooling” or “cash mining” in decentralized finance or DeFi, as seen in the screenshot below shared with Coinscreed. They want to help you get the same return and will only tell you where to invest.
A few make use of legitimate platforms
But the scam could also take place on a legitimate cryptocurrency site like decentralized exchange Uniswap.
Under the guidance of your scammer, you may end up investing your money in scammer-controlled currencies.
According to a November 2021 study, 50% of all token listings on Uniswap are fake (not necessarily related to love cheating, of course).
Some of these scam lists even have the same name as the major cryptocurrencies, just different smart contracts.
Scammers will drain the liquidity of the pool you have invested in, leaving you with worthless tokens.
The advanced scammers use strange and unfamiliar smart contracts
In a more advanced way, scammers can help you move cryptocurrencies from your centralized exchange account like Coinbase to Ethereum using a cryptocurrency wallet like MetaMask.
Crypto wallets are a relatively new technology and are not the easiest-to-use apps suitable for beginners. They don’t indicate what you’re about to sign in human-readable language, much less warn you of red flags.
Once you have your cryptocurrency on-chain, you risk having the funds stolen from your addresses if you sign a malicious contract over your wallet.
Use caution when approaching links sent to you via MetaMask for approval, especially if they come from observant strangers online who will not show their faces.
These scammers ALWAYS never agree to meet in person
Victims of cryptocurrency dating scams routinely report that their online partner refuses to meet them in person or make video calls because they are shy and not ready.
In reality, scammers use other people’s photos to create realistic online profiles. A reverse image search of these photos can help you confirm the person’s identity.
To do this, download the alleged scammer’s photos and try Google or TinEye reverse image search.
You can download the photo and use the camera icon on Google or the download button on TinEye to search for that image.
If no matches are shown, it does not necessarily mean that the photos actually belong to this person. Photos can also be obtained from a private social media profile that the scammer had access to.
However, some scammers are too smart to use photos of real people. They can also use AI-generated photos of non-existent people, just like a developer of a deceptive cryptographic scheme did.
While it can be hard not to trust your heart when looking for love, it’s important to remain vigilant and skeptical (especially when money comes into the conversation) with someone you met online or you won’t just end up heartbroken, but broke also.
Let’s see a typical crypto romance scam example
A Tennessee woman said she lost $390,000 that belonged to her and her father after falling for a cryptocurrency online dating scam.
After losing her mother, 24-year-old Nicole Hutchinson inherited her mother’s house, which she sold and shared the profits with her father.
The additional $280,000 she inherited was originally meant for supporting her family and making a living in California.
To make new friends before moving to California, Nicole began using the online dating site Hinge where she met a man who called himself “Hao” and they became friends.
She told Coinscreed that she felt a strong connection to him when he told her he was from the same city in China where she was adopted.
He liked investing and cryptocurrencies and suggested that she could invest too.
“I told him that I had never invested in my life and I didn’t know anything about cryptocurrencies either, so I was very skeptical,” she said. Hutchinson said Hao assured her it was an area he knew well.
Hutchinson said Hao told her to create an account on a legitimate website, Crypto.com. She then said that he sent her a link and told her to transfer funds to the new link, which he said was a cryptocurrency exchange.
She started small but said he convinced her to start investing larger amounts.
“He kept saying things like, ‘Look at this money, it can help you support your family.’ Of course, I wanted to do that,” he said.
When her account started making profits, she suggested to her father that he invest as well, which he did.
In December, her accounts showed a total balance of $1.2 million in profits, and Hutchinson decided it was time to withdraw her accumulated cash.
At that point, the website told her he had to pay a hefty tax bill of around $380,000 before she could withdraw her funds.
She eventually found out that those cryptocurrency investments were not real. All of her and her father’s funds went into the scammer’s pocket.
“I wasted my life. I wasted my father’s life,” Hutchinson said.
When she tearfully told her father about the scam, he comforted her.
“All I could do was hug her and say, It’s okay. It was difficult because we lost everything,” said Melvin Hutchinson.
Rich Sanders, a crypto fraud investigator and co-founder of Cipherblade reviewed Hutchinson’s case and described it as a “butcher scam.”
“The name really comes from the fattening before slaughter,” Sanders said.
In Hutchinson’s case, he found that her money started out in those legitimate cryptocurrency accounts, but the links the scammers told her to transfer the funds to were digital wallets owned by the scammers.
Cipherblade’s analysis revealed other fake accounts that the company claimed to be linked to the same scammers. The company told Coinscreed that the scammers may have stolen more than $20 million.
Sanders said the money likely went to an organized network of scammers operating in Asia and preying on inexperienced victims.
“I think he really played on the fact that I was naive and didn’t know anything about cryptocurrencies and he just took that and moved on,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson and her father now live in their RV and hope their story can help someone else avoid the scam.
“I just hope others don’t fall for it. So if sharing this story helps, I’m so grateful for the opportunity,” she said.
Crypto.com advises consumers to take steps to ensure that any accounts to which they transfer funds are legitimate.
The company says it proactively deals with threats and immediately removes all fraudulent wallets. Dating app Hinge told us it takes catfishing “extremely seriously” and has trained content moderators looking for evidence of catfishing.