Love Is In the Air & So Are Romance Scams
Every year, millions of people turn to online dating apps or social networking sites to meet their special someone. While this can be a great alternative to traditional dating, many individuals find a scammer looking to take advantage of lonely hearts instead. In 2020, more than 23,000 victims across the United States reported a loss of more than $600 million to this type of scam to the FBI. According to the Federal Trade Commission, reports of online romance scams have nearly tripled in the past few years. Here’s what you need to know about romance scams to protect your heart…and your finances.
What is a Romance Scam and How Does it Work?
A romance scam is when a person is tricked into believing they’re in a romantic relationship with someone they met online – who is not who they say they are. Scammers create fake online profiles on a dating website or social media designed to take advantage of victims online.
They begin the conversation with sharing the basics: what type of work they do, where they live, favorite hobbies and interests. When they establish trust with the victim, the fake suitor may suggest moving the relationship away from the website to a more private channel, such as email, phone, and instant messaging.
They will share loving words, give fake personal information, and send gifts. Once their victim’s defenses are down, the scammers will ask for money, gifts, or banking details. Oftentimes, the scammer will pretend to need the money for some type of personal emergency. For example, to aid an ill family member, or help with an emergency bad luck situation.
Warning Signs to Look Out For:
- Their picture that doesn’t look realistic. Rather, they look more like a model from a fashion magazine with heavy editing.
- They profess strong feelings after just a few messages and request to chat privately through phone, email, or instant messaging.
- They repeatedly promise to meet you in person, but always have an excuse to cancel. For example, they may claim to work overseas or to be traveling to create a barrier to meet you. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- There is always an excuse for why they cannot talk on the phone, video call, or meet in-person.
- He or she attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used against you.
- They ask you for money and require specific payment methods. They want you to send it via wire transfer or a preloaded gift card or cash. Their request will have a sense of urgency and they will be persistent.
How to protect yourself against Romance Scams:
- Don’t ever send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone. Don’t feel a false sense of safety because you’re the one who made contact first. Scammers flood dating websites with fake profiles and wait for victims to reach out to them.
- Don’t reveal too much personal information in a dating profile or to someone you’ve chatted with only online. Scammers can exploit details like your last name or where you work to manipulate you or to commit identity theft.
What You Should Do if You Suspect a Romance Scam:
- Stop all communication immediately!
- Talk to someone you trust and pay attention if your friends or family say they’re concerned about your new love interest.
- Check the scammer’s profile and photo. Use the “search by image” feature on Google to see if the image, name or details show up elsewhere.
- Do a search for the type of job the person has to see if other people have heard similar stories. For example, you could do a search for “oil rig scammer” or “US Army scammer.”
- If you paid the scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away. Explain the gift card you paid for was given to a scammer and ask if it can be refunded.
- Notify your bank if your personal information was compromised.
- Change passwords on all your email, social, online dating, and financial accounts.
- File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
- Report the scam to the FTC.
Falling in love can be great, but before you let someone steal your heart, keep these romance scam warning signs in mind. If you believe your personal information has been compromised or think you are a victim of identity theft, we’re here to help!