First date in July. Madly in love by August. Engaged by October. Married the following May. Is it true love? Or one person’s misguided, desperate, obsessive or even criminal attempt to use “love” to gain access to and control of another person’s financial resources? All you have to do is watch true-crime stories dramatized on TV shows such as Fatal Attraction, Fatal Vows and Who The (Bleep) Did I Marry? to know that, too often, it’s the latter.

People routinely pretend to be what they are not in order to get what they want, and there are few versions of sheep’s clothing more devastatingly effective than pretending to be madly in love—especially in a culture where artificial substitutes for love are readily accepted. In fact, there are repeat offenders, including polygamists and serial killers (sociopaths who repeatedly marry and kill their spouses for insurance money and other assets), for whom using romance to get money is a way of life. Of course, most money-driven relationship predators don’t kill their victims (we don’t think), but failing to recognize one before getting involved can still do plenty of damage, including ruining your credit, destroying your business, derailing your career and even forcing you into bankruptcy or onto public assistance.

Even if you are a person of relatively modest means, you are at risk of being targeted (just watch any episode of Judge Judy), but you are even more vulnerable if you are a successful business owner or professional. This is why we include money among the four things you should never allow access to in order to get or keep a relationship, especially a new one. To protect yourself, here are six signs, gleaned from both personal experience (the relationship timetable at the beginning of this post led to my second—and financially disastrous—failed marriage) and expert observation, that a person is using love to gain control of your money:

There is a direct correlation between the quality and intensity of your relationship and your cash flow. If he is always present, affectionate, possessive and/or sexually available around pay day or when a financial windfall is expected, but inexplicably distant, irritable, argumentative or absent when your bank balances are low, pay attention. It is no coincidence that “cuffing season,” when people are motivated to couple up during the fall and winter months, traditionally ends in the spring, as warmer weather returns—or perhaps after tax refunds start rolling in. Conversely, the winter holiday season is usually a period of big windfalls, including year-end bonuses—and gift giving, of course. When a relationship is seasonal, it’s not love.

They are repeatedly in a state of emergency—and only you can rescue them. She is constantly getting stranded; surprised by large, overdue, unanticipated bills; losing a job; getting robbed; and/or about to be evicted or have her car repossessed. And of course she wouldn’t dream of asking you for help, but she has no place else to turn, and she swears she’ll make it up to you. Besides (she says in that tearfully seductive way that promises mind-blowing sex as an expression of undying gratitude): You’re the only one in the world she can count on. (If she calls you “Daddy,” check for your wallet!) This is one of the most reliable signs of a drama queen (or king), or an adult dependent who believes that if you really love them, you should pay their bills and finance their lifestyle.

They insist on loaning or giving you money, paying bills, lavishing you with gifts or taking you on an expensive trip, especially early in a new relationship, even if you didn’t ask for it or don’t need it. This is designed to make you feel obligated to acquiesce and reciprocate when he wants access to your financial resources. Accept his unsolicited, premature and inappropriately generous largesse once, and (at least in his mind) you’ll be indebted to him forever.

They know more about your budget than you do. When a love interest knows exactly what you get paid and when, as well as your spending habits, what your expenses are and what you are likely to have left over, that is a major red flag. If she is comfortable with telling you what you can or can’t afford, watch out. If she’s getting details about your finances from you, you’re oversharing and putting your financial security at risk. If she’s getting it on her own, without your cooperation or permission, the potential for danger is even greater, including exposing yourself to financial abuse.

They try to convince you that they are better qualified to spend your money than you are. He may start out subtly at first, by casually mentioning your past financial mistakes, innocently questioning your spending habits or hinting that he is more savvy about money or business than you are. Your actual respective levels of financial education won’t matter; he’ll still, for example, infer and ultimately insist that his street-hustling experience trumps your MBA in finance. (Actually, the more professionally successful and financially independent you are, the more vulnerable you’ll be to the prospect of having someone else take on the burden of decision-making for once.) His ultimate goal is to convince you to relax and entrust all the financial decisions to him, for your own good. Soon, you’ll be expected to ask him for permission to spend your money—even if you are the primary breadwinner in the relationship.

They are ready to marry and/or make babies/be a parent to your children as soon as possible—often within months, weeks and even days of declaring undying love for you. Both marriage and procreation create legal (and often, practically permanent) avenues of access to your money. You may not think that’s a big deal, until someone decides you are worth more to them as an ex paying spousal and/or child support—or dead, if they are the primary beneficiary on your insurance policies, retirement accounts and other assets—than you are to them as a the “love of their life.”

Is a new love interest after your money? Or are their motives pure? You won’t find out by just asking; only time will tell. In the meantime, never forget that no matter how much you like a person, or how attracted they say they are to you, you do not know who they are. Do not give or lend money, or take on joint financial obligations. If you want someone to love you for who you are, don’t offer money and possessions. Offer them who you are, seeking only to learn who they are.

Remember this: The right person is worth the wait; the wrong person is never worth the risk. Take as long as necessary to learn the absolute truth about a person, in order to make healthy, self-loving decisions about his or her place in your life. To protect yourself and your finances, watch for the above signs, assert absolute authority and control over your money and bypass anyone who resents or resists your efforts to learn what you need to know to protect yourself.

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