Scammers often stick to a formula that has worked in the past. Here are some of the signature elements of the bogus courtship ritual, according to the FTC, EHarmony, the people search company SocialCatfish.com and the cybersecurity company Norton.
Their profiles promise an exceptional companion, but are general enough to appeal to just about anybody. That's by design on matchmaking sites — the scammers are trying to match with as many potential victims as possible.
They put the whirlwind in the romance. Warned SocialCatfish.com: "Be careful if someone seems to be falling for you and they write and say all of these loving things about you after a brief amount of time," particularly if they haven't even talked to you yet.
They say their job keeps them distant — really distant. Serving in the military is a common claim. Look out for supposed service members who ask for help affording things that the military provides, such as medical care.
They may agree to meet you in person, but they never actually do. Perkins said the cases she's handled at the FTC have a common thread: The perpetrators always have reasons why they can't meet you in person, but they nevertheless need your money.
They also may find reasons not to do video chats, and their online profiles have few pictures.
They try to shift your conversations off the site where you met. Scammers do this to avoid the site's safety features.
They tell stories that aren't consistent and give vague answers when asked specific questions. Meanwhile, their questions seem too personal or inappropriate.
They claim to be recently widowed.
And when they ask for money, which they inevitably do, they have a specific payment method in mind — one that can't be reversed. If your new "soul mate" overseas tells you that the only way to help them is through Western Union, Perkins said, "that's a scam."