Romance Scams: True Deception

By Maydeen Bartholomew-Tangaro on February 15, 2019

On February 12, 2019, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) release an article warning of the dangers of the Romance Scams.  In a Romance Scam, cyber criminals gain the confidence/trust of their victim and trick them into sending money.

Data collected from the members of the Consumer Sentinel Network show a reported 21,000 incidences in 2018, a 60% rise since 2015, while reported losses have grown from $33 million in 2015 to $143 million dollar last year.

Romance Scan graph depicting increase

Figure 1 Romance Scam Increase by year by FTC

Scarlet Widow

Scarlet Widow is a Nigerian-based cyber crime organization that was discovered by the Agari Cyber Intelligence Division (ACID), who named them. ACID was able to identify three top members of the Scarlet Widow who reside in Nigeria and uncover their tactics.

*Scarlet Widow is only one of the actors who was identified.

  • Create a fake persona. Ex. Laura Cahill, Model from Texas working in Paris.
  • Add them to popular dating site, like eHarmony, OkCupid.
    • Also specialized dating sites:,, and because these type of people would be more vulnerable and easier to con.
  • Once the profile is contacted, a conversation would ensue by email/chat. These conversation will give the victim the impression that the con-artist wants a serious relationship and is very spiritual.
    • No, meetups or phone conversations.
  • Once a rapport is reached, a sudden emergency will happen. This is when the con-artist ask the victim for money.
    • Wire Transfer (most popular)
    • Gift card / prepaid cards

    This cycle continues until the con-artist can no longer attain money from the target. The Lauren Cahill profile was able to con from one of the victims, Mr. Blackwell, more than $50,000.

    * Scarlet Widow moved from romance scams to business email compromise.  

    How do we avoid this?

    Recommendation from FTC

    • Never send money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven’t met in person.
    • Take it slowly. Ask questions and look for inconsistent answers. Check the person’s photo using your search engine’s “search by image” feature. If the same picture shows up with a different name, that’s a red flag.
    • Talk to someone about this new love interest. And pay attention if your friends or family are concerned.
    • If you suspect a romance scam, cut off contact right away. Then, report to the scam to the FTC at Notify the dating site where you met the scammer, too.


    • Limit the personal information you share. (kids, job, specific location etc.)
    • Never check your personal email with a work computer, especially one with attachments.
    • Use public record checking tools like BeenVerified, or truthfinder (may cost a little, but with average person losing $2600 in the romance scam, it may be worth it!!)


    Internet Romance Scams; retrieved at

    New FTC Data Spotlight Details Big Jump in Losses, Complaints about Romance Scams; retrived at

    Romance scams rank number one total reported losses retrieved at

    Scarlet Widow breaks hearts with Romance Scams; retrieved at