As more people turn to online dating websites, apps, and social media platforms to find companionship or romance, scammers have also found these avenues to be lucrative in exploiting individuals.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers reported losing more money to romance scams than to any other type of fraud in 2019.
HOW IT WORKS
Scammers create fake online profiles on dating websites and social media designed to lure in potential victims by using a fictional name, or falsely taking on the identities of real, trusted people such as military personnel, aid workers or professionals working abroad. Once contact has been made online, they will express strong emotions for their victims in a relatively short period of time, and will suggest to move the relationship away from the website to a more private channel, such as phone, email, or instant messaging. They may claim to be from the same country as their victim, but will almost always say they are travelling or working overseas to create a barrier to meeting someone in person.
Scammers go to great lengths to gain their victims interest and trust, such as showering them with loving words, sharing ‘personal information’ and sending gifts. They may take months to build what may feel like the romance of a lifetime and even pretend to book flights for visits, but never actually follow through.
Once they have gained their victim’s trust and their defenses are down, the scammers will ask (either subtly or directly) for money, gifts, or banking details. They may also ask for personal information or pictures and/or videos of their victims, which could potentially lead to extortion.
Often times, the scammer will pretend to need the money for some type of personal emergency. For example, they may claim to have a severely ill family member who requires immediate medical attention, like an expensive operation, or claim financial hardship due to an unfortunate run of bad luck such as a failed business venture or problems with law enforcement. The scammer may also claim they want to travel to visit their victim, but cannot afford it unless they are able to lend them money to cover the flights, travel expenses, or customs/visa fees.
Be aware of the following RED FLAGS associated with scammers facilitating romance or online dating scams:
- The dating profile or social media page reveals inconsistencies with what they actually communicate about themselves, such as poor spelling/grammar for a college educated person.
- After connecting online, they profess strong feelings after just a few messages and request to chat privately through phone, email, or instant messaging.
- They claim to be from the same country but are currently traveling or working overseas which gives them a convenient excuse as to why they cannot meet in-person.
- They provide excuses for why they cannot talk on the phone, video call, or meet in-person.
- After making promises or plans to visit, they cancel at the last minute with excuses of traumatic events, business deals gone sour or problems with law enforcement.
- After gaining trust – which can take weeks, months, or even years – they tell an elaborate story and ask for money, gift cards/pre-paid cards, money orders, or bank account and credit card details.
- After a request for money is not sent immediately, their messages and calls become more desperate, persistent, or direct. If money is sent, they will always continue to ask for more.
How to protect yourself against Romance Scams:
- Talk to someone you trust about your new potential love interest- such as a family member or close friend. Do they see any potential warning signs? Do they express reservations about your love interest?
- Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person. Take a minute to pause and think about why this person has requested money from you. Recognize that once this money is sent, you will not get it back.
- Do a reverse image search of their profile picture through a search engine. If it is associated with someone else, odds are it is a scam.
- Search online for the job title they say they have. See if there have been instances of similar scams affecting others.
- Don’t reveal a lot of personal information about yourself online. Scammers use personal information and past experiences to come up with fake shared commonalities in the hopes of connecting with you on a deeper level.
- Refuse to send money to the individual. They will likely continue to pressure you or will quickly lose interest if you do not have the money available to give to them.