The article below previously appeared in Security Smart, a newsletter published by CSO

IT’S HARD TO break a heart…but if a loved one is going broke while in the throes of a remote romance, it might be time to intervene. Security expert Roger Grimes explains. 

I receive emails each week from the children or friends of victims who have fallen head-over-wallet in love with a romance fraudster and cannot be convinced that they are sending money to a scammer, no matter how strong the evidence. The average dating scam victim has sent hundreds to thousands of dollars to their online-only remote romance, but I’ve heard about losses into the tens of thousands, and a few over a hundred thousand. 

The first step to uncovering this kind of scam is to have your loved one sign an agreement with you in which you spell out two tests you will perform to prove the remote romantic interest is a scammer. If the person fails either test, the loved one must agree to admit that a scam is afoot. If the person passes both tests, you will no longer claim that the person isn’t who they say they are (although they may still be taking advantage of your loved one). 

The second step is to obtain all the digital photos your loved one has received from the scammer and get the scammer’s alleged name. 

Then it’s time for the tests. 

Test 1: Save the photos to a folder on your computer that’s easy to find. Perform a reverse image search in Google: Click on the little camera icon that represents “Search by image,” then paste or upload each photo. Look under the results section entitled “Pages that include matching images.” You’re likely to find social media sites belonging to someone whose images were taken and reused by the scammer, and the site and photos will be associated with another name. 

For reasons only the heart can explain, this is usually not enough proof. On to Test 2: 

Tell your loved one to say this to the romantic interest: “My family no longer believes that you are who you say you are and says I’m foolish for listening to your lies. As proof, they want you to take a new picture of yourself with a copy of today’s newspaper and headline.” 

The scammer will reply that they can’t do that, usually because they don’t have access to a current newspaper. This is expected. 

Next message: “My family says they will accept a current picture, but you must touch your index finger to the tip of your nose.” (You can request any action that is not already represented in the existing photos, something easy but not common in causal photos, like standing on one leg.) 

The scammer will likely say they cannot take a photo for some reason. Sadly, even this will be unlikely to sway your loved one. This is where you point to the written contract. Have them agree that they will not send more money, and suggest they break off all contact. 

Usually the loved one will reluctantly agree, but after you are gone, will still participate in additional conversations. Eventually, however, the victim starts to see the reality, and a few weeks later, recognizes the scam for what it is. 

I’ve helped a lot of people break their loved ones out of the grip of an online romance scammer. It isn’t easy, but it can be done. Be there to support your loved one when they finally come back to reality. Don’t blame the victim. They will be embarrassed, but at least they won’t be sending more money. 

Security Smart is published by CSO, the leader in news, analysis and research on security and risk management. ©2019 IDG. To purchase an individual subscription, email securitysmart@idg.com or marketing@idg.com for more information.