The Dangerous Appeal Of The 'Perfect' Guy In Your DMs

How to protect yourself from guys who will win your heart, then leave you empty.

girl taking selfie with phone BublikHaus / Shutterstock

When we are empty, we look for something to fill us up. For some of us, it's eating too many Oreo cookies or scouring the internet for super sales. And then, I slam on the brakes mid-scroll.

Who is that man? The one in the photo with a stethoscope around his neck standing beside a quarter-million dollar Ferrari wearing an Armani Bond-style suit? 

While I am stuck gazing at this “too good to be true” friend request by — let’s call him Roberto — I see yet another request from a man in military uniform. 


He is boy-next-door handsome, pulling on my heartstrings as he wears the flag on his chest with a sidearm ready to serve and protect. In his photos, he poses with both tanks and children. This rugged, but sweet guy must be lonely. He needs me! I think aloud. 

Oh, wait! My inbox just lit up with a “Hello, beautiful. How is your day?” Wait. Who thinks I am beautiful?

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My heart is pounding, and the pace of my breath increases like I am on a treadmill that suddenly, steeply inclined. I eagerly look with anticipation to see who it may be.


Screech. Scratch. Halt.    

Here is the part where I tell you that I am happily married, and anything from this point is "research" for my clients. Seriously. 

However, I have been single, I have been divorced, I have been lonely, and I have been emotionally void even when I had companionship. While I didn’t have a computer or smartphone during those lonely days, it is in my current “research” and sadly in the stories shared by my clients, that I have learned much about online predators

As for why you or I would fall as their prey, the reasons is as old as time itself.

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Why we fall victim to romance scams

The age-old reason we are victimized by anyone or anything is because of an emotional void. An unmet need. An emptiness. A desire to be seen, heard, validated, cared for, and needed.

Psychologists tell us that as humans we have emotional needs that must be met to lead fulfilling and satisfactory lives. While they differ in number and exact definitions between scientists and how they are presented, most are derived from some form of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs.

The foundation is related to survival and safety, while the pinnacle is related to self-actualization and becoming all that we can become in this life. At the center are needs for love and belonging, those related to friendship, intimacy, family and a sense of connection.

And, at the very heart center of needing love and belonging, there can be emotional starvation that leads many to be vulnerable to online romance scammers. 


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Emotional needs are cravings

Dr. William F. Harley, Jr., author of His Needs, Her Needs: Building An Affair-proof Marriage, talks about our emotional needs as if they are cravings. Cravings are intense desires that yield powerful urges and therefore motivate, or some would argue dictate behavior choices.

Online predators are well-versed in how to feed the emotionally starved. Their goal is to establish an emotional connection and a relationship as quickly as possible. They carefully craft their words to endear themselves to their targeted victim, gain their trust, and ultimately, their trust fund.

It may be hard to believe if you have not experienced it, that someone could “fall in love” from still-life photos, typed words, and possibly an occasional voice call. Remember, we are talking about professional criminals who study their targets’ social media posts and fully understand this list. They write words of affection, create desire, express longing, share about their past and their daily lives, talk about their dreams and how they see sharing their future with this god or goddess that fate has brought into their lives. “Let’s talk again tomorrow” messages leave the victim on a high, craving the next fix. 


“Until then, good night, sweet dreams, my beautiful lady. Isn’t it nice to think that we have the same sky above us even though we live far apart? I think the stars are shining brighter now and lining up somehow for us,” Roberto wrote to me. Poetic. Crafted. Designed to fill a void for someone who may feel ignored, taken for granted, disrespected, unwanted, or undervalued. 

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Don't cave to the craving

What will tomorrow bring? The emotionally stimulated target starts craving, needing more, and asking for direct contact. The predator will make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. Eventually, he or she will ask for money.

Here is the problem with being needy — many of us will forego the power of choice to satisfy the need in the moment. When we let emotions lead our lives, we are led by whomever or whatever gets our attention. Picture the fisherman with his rod and reel, trolling the waters with the hooked worm, waiting for the hungriest, least cautious, most trusting to go for it! These online trollers are saying the same things to numerous potential victims at the same time — which one will bite?


The FBI reports “romance scammers” become experts at understanding how to victimize, manipulate, and exploit their targets for the purposes of extorting cash.  They spend countless hours identifying the potentially vulnerable, connecting with them as those men did with me, engaging in flattering, validating, emotionally-stirring conversation, and establishing a romantic connection — all through words and the availability to communicate. 

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Why are emotional affairs so powerful?

Because what people really need is connection by intimate conversation. Here you go again. To be heard. To be acknowledged. To be validated. And romance criminals do that very, very well. Once you are hooked, feeding on the bait, they then ask for what they need, and how can you refuse your Oreo? Your online bargain? Just this once, $2,000, or just this once more, $4,000.

Once you have been identified as a “sucker" — yes, a “sucker" — your information is shared with other criminals for future scams. The FBI has reported that many of the online scams originate out of an office filled with cubicles in Nigeria, and you may be conversing with a different criminal on a different day, always thinking it is your Roberto or Joe. 


According to the FTC, online romance scams, also known by the FBI as confidence fraud, is the most common type of consumer fraud, and CNN has previously reported that in one year alone more than 21,000 confidence crimes occurred exceeding more than $201 million in personal financial losses. What about the emotional price tag? I would imagine being left heartbroken and betrayed that embarrassment, shame, humiliation and other factors prevented many such crimes from being reported to authorities.

What to look for? They might be a scammer if:

  • Their photo is a little too perfect.
  • Google has never heard of their university or place of employment.
  • They confess their love for you before you can spell their name.
  • They ask you to go offline to communicate (so they can isolate you).
  • They ask you for a sexy photo for “their eyes only” (until they use it to extort you).
  • They ask for some financial assistance to come see you because something happened and their account is frozen, but they will pay you back in 48 hours (tick, tock).

Do you get the picture? The list could go on and on. Ask a victim.

So the first thing to do to protect yourself from everything from Oreos to bankruptcy is to get real comfortable with who you are, identify what’s missing emotionally and find healthy ways to fill yourself up. 

If you go through life as a dry sponge, then any drop of water will feel good, and you will go back to the source for more, and more, and more. You will not believe it is not good for you until the damage is done.


If you look to others or wait for something or someone else to fill you up, then you will likely dry up like a daisy in the desert heat. Work with a coach or therapist to get to know yourself fully, understand how to care for your emotional needs, and seek healthy, real connections and relationships. 

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Ann Papayoti, PCC, is a relationship coach, author, and speaker helping people help themselves through losses and transitions. She helps people untangle from their past and heal their hearts.

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