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:
How to protect yourself against Romance Scams: