What's Love Got To Do With It?: Fighting Romance Scams this Valentine's Day

Mary Ann Miller
February 14, 2023
“Love is a lot of things, but ‘safe’ isn’t one of them”.

 - Mandy Hale, Author of ‘The Single Woman’.

Mandy is right. Finding love can be scary. It requires sacrifice, commitment, and a whole lot of vulnerability. And when we think we’ve found it, it can surely make us do crazy things. Just ask Romeo and Juliet!

While this “risk it all” pursuit of love makes for great drama, it’s also become a top area of exploitation among fraudsters. Between 2016 and 2021, individuals in the US lost a collective 1.3 billion dollars to romance scams, more than any other FTC category. Reported losses hit a record $547 million in 2021, which was an 80% increase compared to the year before. 

What are romance scams? 

Romance scams occur when a bad actor adopts a stolen or synthetic identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. ​​The scammer then uses the illusion of romantic interest and intimacy to manipulate the victim into sending them money or laundering money on their behalf. Talk about heartbreaking! 

What are catfish? 

If you have ever watched MTV’s hit show Catfish, you know just how easy it is for individuals to impersonate someone else on the internet to build online relationships. 

A catfish is a popular term to describe someone who hides behind a fake persona on the internet for online dating. They often use fake names and photographs stolen from someone else’s social media profile to build a convincing and alluring synthetic identity. Their motive? Some catfish are lonely and want nothing more than online relationships while other catfish want to manipulate the victim into sending over money. This blog focuses on the second category.

How can you prevent romance scams from hurting your platform and your customers? 

If your company only leverages risk-based authentication, finding and stopping romance-scams transactions is like finding a needle in a haystack among the influx of V-day payments. Distinguishing between legitimate money transfers and suspect ones is extremely difficult. Therefore, consider leveraging cryptographic authentication,  a more preventative and deterministic approach that stops these vicious scammers before they even have the chance to ask for “favors”. 

Prove’s model prevents these scammers from creating fake accounts which are established for the purpose of receiving funds from their unwitting victims. Here’s the simple but powerful three-step process: 

  1. Possession answers the question: Is this customer in possession of the phone? Knowing that someone is in possession of a phone at the precise moment of a potential transaction helps identify someone regardless of the transaction channel and helps ensure the customer is indeed on the other end of an interaction.
  2. Reputation answers the question: Are there risky changes or suspicious behaviors associated with the phone number? Typically, people have had the same phone number for a long time and upgrade phones only every few years. Compare that to a burner phone, or a phone that underwent a SIM swap, or a phone number that was just registered. These activities lower the reputation of the phone itself, which allows companies to flag the phone regardless of the customer activity.
  3. Ownership answers the question: Is the customer associated with the phone number? It is crucial to associate a phone number with a person when confirming that the customer is in possession of the phone. Otherwise, the wrong person may be verified. This means knowing when a customer truly gets a new phone number or knowing that phone number is still associated with a person even if they switch carriers.

At its core, digital authentication is all about proving that someone really is who they claim to be on the internet. Because most dating apps and social media platforms don’t authenticate their users, it’s easy to create fake profiles that fraudsters can use to trick victims. 

Even more disturbing, poor identity proofing results in fraudsters creating fake accounts using data stolen from a victim. This means that catfish can convince a victim to send money to an essentially untraceable bank account. 


This Valentine’s Day, be aware that romance scams are on the rise. When it comes to online dating, remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. To put a stop to romance scams, companies should leverage cryptographic authentication to prevent the creation of synthetic identities on all platforms. 


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