How to Tell If You’re Being Used for a Green Card

If you’re in the early stages of your relationship with a green card scammer, you’re probably experiencing consistent doubts: a nagging feeling that makes you question the relationship. However, things are still going well enough that you have hope that it’s for real, enough hope that you push away those who tell you to “listen to your gut.” It’s a very confusing place to be in: do they really love you for you?

In trying to make sense of your relationship, here are some red flags for you to consider. For each one, I’m including an example from my own experience with a green card scammer to help give you a more concrete idea of what this looks like.

-To what extent do they seem to care about your future as a couple? I’m not just talking about what they say: any good scammer will be able to say lots of lovely things about your life together 10-20 years down the line. Look at their actions instead. Are they behaving in a way that will strengthen the bond between the two of you? Do they encourage you to take steps for your long-term happiness as a couple (caring about your health or supporting you in making a long-term goal to achieve something that will help both of you, for example), or do they just seem concerned with improving their own career prospects and overall well-being?

My example: My ex-husband didn’t act like a full partner in our marriage. He told me that he was taking steps to find a job, but later I found out that he was doing much less than he was telling me. He was also generally hostile to participating in marriage counseling, to the point that the therapist was shocked and baffled by his attitude. I don’t think he ever showed up to a session on time.

-Do they spend a lot of your money or encourage you to spend a lot of money? At some point in a relationship, when you’re envisioning a future together, you know there’s no “my money” or “your money.” Even if you keep separate bank accounts, there’s only “our money.” If your partner wants to spend money as if there’s an infinite amount of it, you have to wonder if they’re planning on splitting before they have to face any consequences, leaving you with the bill.

My example: Even though we had very little financial resources, my ex-husband spent a ton of money. He maxed out my credit over 3-4 cards within a month or two of when I gave him access to them, including buying $100 worth of groceries for his family right before he left Peru. Despite not having a job or actively pounding the pavement looking for one, he ate out constantly. In talking to a trusted co-worker, I realized that my 20-something husband was spending more per month on (casual) clothes than her 60-something husband at the top of his career spent on his monthly wardrobe needs in a field where dressing for success was a requirement.

-Do they still seem to have a lot of interest in other potential partners? Cheating is a problem in all relationships and some of us just aren’t meant for monogamy, so by itself this doesn’t tell you whether someone is just in it for the green card. But normally, as your relationship is deepening and you’re considering making serious commitments, you tend to be focused just on your partner. If the person you’re with still seems to be spending a lot of time with others who could be potential romantic interests, you should take note.

My example: My ex-husband definitely spent more time interacting with other women than he did with me after we got engaged. I remember him spending a lot of time exchanging messages on Facebook with one of my friends and making more comments about other women than married men typically do. It was not so much of a surprise when 8 months into our marriage I discovered he had been cheating on me for several months.

-Do they seem ambivalent about involving you in their family life/friend group, or do their family and friends not seem to take you seriously? When we really fall in love with someone, we usually want them to get to know others who are close to us. You ideally want everyone who’s important to you to get along, after all. And the important people in your life know that if you’re serious about someone, they may be around for awhile, and they want to take the time to get to know the new person. If as your relationship becomes more serious, your partner’s family and friends seem very casual towards you, or even show a lack of interest, that suggests that on some level they know you aren’t that important and won’t be around for very long. Same goes for if it’s your partner who doesn’t seem to care about integrating you into the rest of their life, especially if their family is curious but your partner blocks them from getting to know you.

My example: My ex-husband discouraged me from learning Spanish, which was the only language his mother spoke. He used to mock my attempt to speak simple phrases constantly, and though he had experience as a language teacher he never did anything to help me learn. When I went to visit him in Peru for the first time, he didn’t introduce me to his family until the last couple of days of my trip, when he was on the verge of proposing.

-Do they seem ambivalent about the wedding? Even for those of us who are unromantic or who have been married before, getting hitched is a big deal. You’re marking your future life together and it’s an important piece in your story as a couple. Whether you have a lot of money to spend or not, most people want to find a way to celebrate their love meaningfully. That often means incorporating important traditions or finding some other way of expressing their personality and their love for their partner. You want it to be a nice memory, and you hope that you won’t be having another wedding sometime in the future that could serve as a “do-over.” Weddings are often a lot of work and very stressful to plan, so if your partner seems frustrated by the process and wants to step away, I wouldn’t fault them too much. But if they’re leaving everything to you and nothing about the day seems important to them, that could signal that they don’t see this as a real wedding.

My example: Though my ex-husband talked about some cultural wedding traditions that were important to him, when I suggested incorporating them he said: “No, it doesn’t matter because you’re not from the same culture.” I assigned him a couple tasks, but he wouldn’t follow through. At one point when discussing our reception, he said: “Look, I really just see this as like any other party.”

-Do they not have a lot going for them in their home country? If your partner is giving up a sweet house on the beach and their dream job to move to the US and be with you, then you can be confident their love is real. But if they’re struggling with their career, living in place that makes them unhappy, and talk about making big changes, be a little wary. They may be seeing you as the stepping stone to get out of a bad situation. If they’re at a point where they should be more settled than they are, then you should also wonder if they have trouble maintaining relationships, perhaps because they have a habit of using others. Also take note of their relationships with their family and how willing they seem to be to move far away. The US is a more individualistic culture, and family is less important to us than it is in other countries. For your typical person from the Phillipines or Costa Rica, the decision to leave your family behind, even for someone you love, is a very very difficult one to make. Many people in these cultures are more likely to try to convince you to build a life in their country! If they don’t seem to struggle very much with moving far away, you have to wonder if you in turn will one day be just as disposible to them. Yes, they may have a yearning to travel and see more of the world, but if you get the feeling that it’s easy for them to decide to make a life somewhere else, be cautious.

My example: My ex-husband was unemployed when we met, and talked about maybe going to Dubai to look for work. He lived with his mother and would talk about how depressed he was. He talked about wanting to get the heck out of Peru and when I asked if maybe we might spend some time living there one day he replied, “Absolutely not.”

-Is their interest in the US very, very strong? Sure, we have a lot of things going for us as a nation and due to our influence people know more about the US than we know about their countries. But non-Americans with an American level of patriotism are not common. Don’t let someone flattering your own national pride blind you to the fact that they want to move to the US and don’t care how they get there.

My example: My ex-husband and I met on Reddit in a forum for discussing US politics. It seemed curious to me from the beginning how much time he spent reading about the US and participating in US-related forums online. He also from early in our relationship already seemed to know a lot about the US process for immigrating via marriage.

-Did you get serious quickly? Normal relationships usually take time to unfold as both partners develop trust. However, a green card scammer doesn’t need to take so much time: they know you’ll only be in their life for a few years at most. And they don’t want you to take your time, because there’s a greater chance you’ll start to see through them. Given that in these relationships the foreign partner often needs to move great distances and is taking a risk, there’s lots of reason for them to be cautious. If they seem to be throwing all caution to the wind, know that your wild love story may not be real.

My example: My ex-husband and I got engaged after spending only a week in person and three months talking online before my trip. I’ve never seen a man so open to marriage before or since.

-Finally, do they get defensive or otherwise shut down when you question them about any of the above in a non-confrontational manner?

My example: When I would try to start a conversation with my ex-husband about how much money he was spending or how he paid more attention to other women than to me, he would fly into a rage and start making wild accusations about my behavior that were obviously factually false. I quickly learned that any discussion about finances (a normal part of being a married couple) just was not possible.

If you only see one or two flags, be aware that someone may just have weaknesses in their relationship or financial skills, still be a little immature, or have something else going on. For any one of these flags, there could easily be an alternative explanation. But if you start seeing a bunch of them, be wary.