Is Love Bombing the Newest Scam to Avoid?

Could your partner's grand gestures lead to a romance scam? Watch out for these red flags.

Everyone wants to be swept off their feet in a new relationship, but there can be too much of a good thing. With examples like the Tinder Swindler and West Elm Caleb in the news lately, experts are warning that a partner’s lavish gifts and grand gestures may not be about romance—they could be something called love bombing.

“It is easy to miss [the signs of] love bombing because, in many cases, it looks like you have found a great and attentive romantic partner,” says Alex Hamerstone, a director at the cybersecurity firm TrustedSec. While it’s normal for couples to experience a honeymoon phase, “people who use love bombing may be doing it for nefarious reasons, whether to get into a toxic relationship or to lead to a scam,” he says.

Fortunately, knowing the signs of love bombing can help you tell the difference between a healthy relationship and a romance scam. We got the scoop from experts on what love bombing is, how to spot the red flags, and what you can do to protect yourself. To stay safe online, you should also learn what doxxing is, how to spot Facebook scams, how to see who viewed your Facebook profile, and what makes an Instagram ad untrustworthy.

What is love bombing?

In the dating practice known as love bombing, a romantic partner showers you with attention, money, and gifts in order to gain control in a relationship. It could be a sign of an unhealthy or toxic relationship à la West Elm Caleb, a man whose New York City dating exploits went viral on TikTok. Or it may be part of a romance scam story that could potentially swindle you out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And it’s more common than you might think. A new report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revealed that fraudsters stole a whopping $547 million through romance scams in 2021.

What are the signs of love bombing?

Man Giving Gift To Girlfriend While Sitting In RestaurantTom Werner/Getty Images

When dating online or through an app, beware of “a relationship that moves too quickly, expensive gifts or trips being purchased in the first few weeks of the relationship, or loving words of affirmation being shared early in the relationship,” advises Ronnie Tokazowski, a cybersecurity expert at Cofense.

Behaviors like being overly generous and affectionate are common signs of love bombing and are tricks con artists use to win your trust—before scamming you. The Tinder Swindler, for example, purchased plane tickets for women he met on Tinder, took them on lavish trips abroad, and talked about starting families with them.

How dangerous is love bombing, actually?

Love bombing alone can harm victims psychologically, but in romance scams, this behavior can also have devastating financial consequences. Fraudsters use love bombing to win victims over before asking them to purchase expensive items or share their financial and other personal information.

In the case of the Tinder Swindler, the women he scammed and catfished were left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card debt after he asked them to purchase plane tickets and take out loans for him. Victims can also become unwitting participants to—or victims of—other crimes, such as identity theft, money laundering, and phishing email attacks by sharing their personal information, according to Tokazowski.

Dating someone online or through an app? Think twice before agreeing to take out loans or share credit card information, especially if the requests are urgent or time sensitive.

“People should not give anyone they don’t know their financial information and should not purchase goods or plane tickets for people they don’t know,” Hamerstone says. “If you feel a sense of urgency to respond to a request, it is important to take a step back and know that it is likely a scam.”

What are some scams similar to love bombing?

In many online scams, fraudsters develop a relationship with a victim and then make urgent requests for money or other tangible items. “The scammer may tell the victim that they need money for a plane ticket to come see them or that one of their relatives is in trouble and they need money [immediately],” according to Hamerstone.

Love bombing and romance scams share these same elements but take longer to carry out, he says. Scammers may spend several weeks or even months showering a victim with affection and gifts before beginning to ask for small favors. Those small favors gradually grow into requests for more expensive items, like plane tickets or loans.

What might love bombing look like in the future?

Woman Video Calling Man She Met OnlineWillie B. Thomas/Getty Images

Both love bombing and romance scams have been around for decades, but the Internet and social media provide new ways to scam victims. “As people spend more time at home, and we continue to participate in more parts of our lives online rather than in person, love bombing [scams] will likely continue to become more common online,” Hamerstone says.

In 2021, a vast majority of romance scams took place with no in-person interaction, according to the FTC—and that number is likely to continue to rise. “Scammers will continue to innovate and change the attack as long as they can keep taking money from the victims,” warns Tokazowski.

What should you do if you fall victim to a love bombing scam?

If you are a victim of a romance scam that involves love bombing, Tokazowski recommends cutting off all communication immediately. From there, get help by seeking therapy, and if you lost money, reporting the incident to the police and FTC. You should also notify whichever app or dating site you used to meet the fraudster, according to the FTC.

Scammers may try to regain contact by messaging you from different phone numbers or pulling you into other types of scams, but “be strong and stick to your guns,” Tokazowski says. “They are persistent and will not stop if they think they can get more money out of you.”

FYI, these Facebook marketplace scams reveal that online shopping can be just as dangerous as online dating. In both cases, the best way to avoid being scammed is by staying informed.

Sources:

  • Alex Hamerstone, director of advisory solutions at TrustedSec
  • Ronnie Tokazowski, principal threat advisor at Cofense
  • Federal Trade Commission: “FTC Data Show Romance Scams Hit Record High; $547 Million Reported Lost in 2021”

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Brooke Nelson
Brooke is a tech and consumer products writer covering the latest in digital trends, product reviews, security and privacy, and other news and features for RD.com.