The risk of romanticism: Psychological characteristics of online romance scam victims
University of Westminster
University of Leicester
Objectives: In online dating romance scams, criminals
initiate fake relationships through online dating or social networking sites,
then financially defraud their victims. This study explored whether personality
characteristics or romantic attitudes affected risk of victimisation or
severity of outcomes.
Design: A quasi-experimental design compared people who had
or had not fallen victim to romance scams in two distinct samples.
Methods: In Study 1, 853 respondents were recruited via an
online dating company. They completed online measures of constructs including
Romantic Beliefs, Sensation Seeking, Loneliness and the Big Five, and reported
their experiences of romance scams. In Study 2, 397 respondents recruited via a
romance scam support website completed the same measures.
Results: Across both studies, 470 people were scam victims
and 239 of these had lost money. Of the constructs measured, only Romantic
Beliefs distinguished victim and non-victim groups. Specifically, high scores
on the romantic belief of Idealisation were associated with likelihood of being
a victim. Victims experienced significant emotional distress as well as
financial losses, with even respondents who had not lost money reporting significant
distress. While women were typically more affected, some men also reported very
high levels of distress. Among male financial victims, those with higher
Neuroticism scores were most affected. Level of emotional distress was
associated with high Neuroticism, and with high Loneliness and low Openness to
Experience among victims not losing money.
Conclusions: Higher Romantic Beliefs (especially
idealisation of romantic partners) may be linked to victimisation. A number of
variables are associated with the effects of victimisation, and victims may
experience significant emotional effects. The findings have implications for
the feasibility of crime-prevention measures based on victim characteristics,
and for treatment of victims by law enforcement and other stakeholders.