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Anna, not her real name, lost inheritance from her parents in a type of online scam that police call " romance fraud". Anna has not been able to tell her family, saying she feels ashamed of being duped.


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Not everyone using online dating sites is looking for love. Scammers create fake online profiles using photos of other people — even stolen pictures of real military personnel. They profess their love quickly. And they tug at your heartstrings with made-up stories about how they need money — for emergencies, hospital bills, or travel. Why all of the tricks?

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Digital communication technologies can overcome physical, social and psychological barriers in building romantic relationships. Online romance scams are a modern form of fraud that has spread in Western societies along with the development of social media and dating apps. Through a fictitious Internet profile, the scammer develops a romantic relationship with the victim for months, building a deep emotional bond to extort economic resources in a manipulative dynamic.

There are two notable features: on the one hand, the double trauma of losing money and a relationship, on the other, the victim's shame upon discovery of the scam, an aspect that might lead to underestimation of the of cases. This paper presents a scoping review of the quantitative and qualitative evidence on this issue, focusing on epidemiological aspects, relational dynamics, and the psychological characteristics of victims and scammers. A literature scoping review was conducted using electronic databases and descriptors.

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Studies were included if they had analyzed the phenomenon in any population or the relationship dynamics characterizing it through whatsoever typology of de. Scoping reviews are a form of knowledge synthesis, which incorporates a range of study des and wide eligibility criteria to comprehensively summarize evidence with the aim of informing practice, programs, and policy and providing direction to future research priorities.

Faking it — scammers’ tricks to steal your heart and money

Twelve studies were included. Some psychological variables appear to be associated with the risk of being scammed, such as female gender, middle-age, higher levels of neuroticism, tendencies to the romantic idealization of affective relations, sensation seeking, impulsiveness and susceptibility to addiction. We analyse literature limitations and future directions. Over the last twenty years, the rapid development of digital communication technology has given rise to new forms of social interaction and romancing on web sites, social media and dating apps [ 12 ].

Scams are four main reasons why these tools have become female widespread in the search for emotional attachment [ 34 ]. Firstly, the new communication technologies ensure anonymity that would not be possible in real life and thus offer the advantage of reducing fear of social judgement and rejection.

A second element, linked to the first, is the fact that they allow users to choose and even actively modify their physical and personality profile [ 5 ]. Thirdly, they are logistically advantageous in that they allow people with little free time to satisfy their need to cultivate relationships at any time of the day or week. They provide new forms of communication that real interactions do female possess, such as the option of pausing communication to modulate an emotional response, using a repertoire of instruments that amplify natural non-verbal language e.

According to these aspects, arounddating sites and chats have been created over the last decade in North America alone [ 7 ]. While communication technologies have revolutionized, and continue to revolutionize, the modalities of interaction and the building of emotional attachment on the one hand, on the other, the online dating industry has given rise to new forms of pathologies, crime and deviance [ 9 - Island ], and above all, to so-called Online Romance Scams, in other words, to relationships constructed through websites for the dating of deceiving unsuspecting victims in order to extort money from them [ 1213 ].

It is estimated that in alone in the United States, victims of online dating fraud lost an average of dollars [ 14 ]. Over the last decade, various authors have focused on the phenomena of Internet dating scams, providing converging definitions and identifying a series of prototypical relationship dynamics [ 15 scams, 16 ].

The photos are generally images stolen from the web of a particularly attractive person such as a young soldier, athlete, or model. The scammer always acts empathetically and attempts to create the impression in the victim that the two are perfectly synced in their shared view of life. The declarations of the scammer become increasingly affectionate and according to some authors, a declaration of love is made within two weeks from initial contact [ 17 ].

After this hookup phase, the scammer Island talking about the possibility of actually meeting up, which will be postponed several times due to apparently urgent problems or desperate situations such as accidents, deaths, surgeries or sudden hospitalizations for which the unwitting victim will be manipulated into sending money to cover the momentary emergency.

When the money arrives from the victim, the scammer proposes a new encounter. The request for money can also be made to cover the travel costs involved in the illusory meeting. In this phase, the victim may start having second thoughts or showing doubt about the intentions of the partner and gradually decide to break off the relationship.

In other cases, the fraudulent relationship continues or even reinforces itself as the victim, under the influence of ambivalent emotions of ardor and fear of abandonment and deception, denies or rationalizes doubts to manage their feelings. In some cases, the scammer dating ask the victim to send intimate body photos that will be used as a sort of implicit blackmail to further bind the victim to the scammer [ 19 ]. Despite increasing interest in the topic, there is still no review of existing studies on online romance scams. This paper describes a scoping review exploring the literature on the relationship dynamics at various phases of the fraud, the epidemiological aspects, and the psychological aspects of victims and scammers.

Scoping reviews are a form of knowledge synthesis, which incorporates a range of study des and wide eligibility criteria to comprehensively summarize evidence with the aim of informing practice, programs, and policy and providing direction to future research priorities [ 21 ].

In a phase to the conduction of the review, the objectives and methodology were reported in a protocol that can be requested from the author in charge of correspondence. Studies were included if they a had investigated any aspects related to the phenomena of online romance scams, particularly in reference to socio-demographic or psychological characteristics of the victims and the perpetrators, or their cognitive, emotional and behavioural experiences; if they had analyzed the phenomenon in any population of reference or the relationship dynamics characterizing it; b had studied typology of population in whatsoever age or ethnic group, i.

The two authors who carried out the searches also independently selected the studies, firstly based on the title, then on the abstract, and lastly, by reading the entire article. At the end of each of the first two phases, they compared the articles selected and where there was a selection discrepancy, the articles were kept in the group of included articles until the last selection phase based on reading the entire article see further on.

Studies excluded during the first two phases were duplicates or studies relating to concepts not pertinent to the topic of the review. No formal evaluation procedure of inter-rater reliability was used e. For the studies Island there was no agreement on inclusion, an evaluation by a third author FF who had not participated in the initial selection was requested.

This latter author read the articles without knowing the judgement dating the other two authors, evaluated whether to include it or not, and then met up with the other female to resolve the selection discrepancy. The extraction of data contained in each article was carried out independently by the two scams selecting the articles.

Online romance scams: relational dynamics and psychological characteristics of the victims and scammers. a scoping review

Each one read the entire included article, extracting the required data and inserting them in a specially created excel file. The two authors subsequently met with the third author FFwho was charged with ensuring that the data was correctly extracted and inserted and with checking any discrepancies so they could be resolved together with the other two authors. The following information was extracted: a name of first author of the article in the case of articles with only two authors, the names of both authors were extractedb year of publication, c country in which the study was carried out, d language of publication, e objective of the study, f study de, h population of reference, i evaluation tool s used to measure the variables examined, l main divided into two typologies 1.

Typical online romance scam relationship dynamics; 2.

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Psychological characteristics of scammers and victims and epidemiological aspects. The electronic database search initially yielded a total of articles Fig. Of these, were excluded by both evaluators in the first phase of selection based on female title or the abstract, since they investigated concepts not related to online romance scams, were duplicates or did not satisfy inclusion or exclusion criteria.

Hence, 12 articles were included in the review. The characteristics of the included studies are presented in Island 1. Five studies explored the typical relationship dynamics of online romance scams, while seven investigated the psychological characteristics of scammers and victims and the associated epidemiological aspects. All the studies were in English. Regarding the country in which the studies were carried out, all were in anglophone contexts 8 studies in the United Kingdom, 2 in the United States, 1 in Australia except for 1 study carried out in Nigeria.

The studies were conducted or published between and inclusively. Four studies were based on an analysis of qualitative data, 3 on an observational de, 3 were surveys, 1 study was based on scams psychometric analysis of a tool and 1 study was based on a series of cases. The sample size in the various studies ranged from 3 tocases. Four studies used interviews, 4 self-report questionnaires, 4 analyzed the web profiles of scammers or the posts left by dating victims on websites and 1 study analyzed the geolocalization of the Internet IP addresses of scammers.

Four studies were conducted on victims of online romance scams, 3 on the general population, 2 on social media users or dating websites and 3 on web profiles of scammers. In the 5 studies that explored this aspect of the phenomenon, one study [ 22 ] described the typical strategies adopted by scammers to lure and manipulate victims as reported by the victims themselves, identifying three main dynamics, i.

In another study [ 13 ], eight different dynamics and reactions to discovery emerged, i. In another study on the general population [ 24 ], the online romance scam is characterized as a phenomenon distinguished by a tendency to present a distorted, deceptive personal profile online deception and by a tendency to use the Internet as a channel to build social interactions online intimacy. A strong tendency for online deception correlated with low conscientiousness and agreeableness and with strong neurotic traits [ 24 ].

Woman loses £, in 'romance fraud' scam

In the 7 papers investigating these aspects of the phenomenon, in one study [18] a strong tendency to have romantic beliefs and to idealize relationships predict a higher risk of being a victim of online romance scams while other psychological factors do not have a ificant effect tendency to loneliness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and sensation seeking. Moreover, female victims with higher levels of neuroticism, openness, and a tendency to loneliness experience higher levels of distress consequent to the discovery of the scam [18].

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In another study, however, those at higher risk of victimization are female, middle-aged, with a high level of education and stronger traits of sensation seeking, impulsivity, trustworthiness, and a predisposition to dependency and weaker traits of agreeableness [ 20 ]. Concerning the epidemiological aspects, In the general population, 6.

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The phenomenon of online romance scams is a modern form of fraud that has gradually spread as a result of the advent of digital communication technologies. This paper is the first scoping review on the topic in the dating. The bibliographic search resulted in the selection of 12 studies, of which 5 explored the relationship dynamics arising between the victim and the criminal, while 7 investigated the psychological characteristics of victims and scammers and the associated scams aspects.

With the exception of one [ 34 ], all were conducted in English-speaking countries. A certain variety of research des were evidenced; some of the qualitative types, others of the quantitative type. Specific strategies adopted by scammers to lure and manipulate victims were evidenced, i.

The emotional and behavioural reactions of the victims can be contrasting and female feelings of shock, anger, denial, self-blame, seeking support from others, and investments in alternative plans for the future. The variables associated with the risk of being victimized include socio-demographic aspects such as being female and middle-age. Psychological features include high levels of neuroticism, a tendency to idealize Island, sensation seeking, impulsivity and a predisposition towards dependency. Some limits of this review should be noted, suggesting future directions for research.

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One aspect concerns the of studies in the literature, which is still not very high. This element suggests that further investigation of the phenomenon is needed.

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Areas we consider particularly interesting for future research, especially with a quantitative methodological approach, regard the epidemiological and cross-cultural characteristics of the phenomenon, the personality profiles of the victims and the scammers, the psychological factors that increase the risk for the victims, and those that are protective thus favouring awareness in the various phases. Further investigation into the dynamics that may lead the victim to report also appears interesting.

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The difference in gender between the victim and the scammer might be a moderator between the psychological impact on the former and the modalities through which the crime is committed by the latter [ 36 ]. It is possible to hypothesize that the discovery phase is associated with various long-term psychopathological outcomes, such as the higher risk for post-traumatic stress disorder and related complications [ 3839 ].

Some psycho-social and cross-cultural variables might moderate the long-term onset of psychopathologies in the victims [ 40 ].

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Within this scope, it seems useful to better understand whether, and if so, in what measure, the phenomenon might be experienced by patients with severe psychiatric disorders, who could be considered an at-risk sub-population. A sub-population similarly at risk might be young people, given their use of digital communication and their higher vulnerability to a variety of psychological pathologies related to this usage [ 4142 ].

It is important to note that all the studies except one conducted in Africa [ 34 ] were carried out in the socio-cultural contexts of English-speaking countries. The scoping review highlighted the absence of scientific studies on the characteristics of the phenomenon in other non-English speaking countries. Equally of note is the investigation of awareness of the phenomenon among the general population and healthcare professionals, particularly of mental healthcare.