Romance Scams are on the Rise!
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, love is in the air! And although the majority may think that flowers and a fancy dinner costs a lot, thousands of Americans in search of their perfect soulmate fall victim to online romance scams that ends up costing them a lifetime of savings.
Nowadays, online apps and social platforms are standard tools in the dating scene. Sadly, many users in search of love are lured by deceptive and sneaky scammers. These so-called romance scammers steal their hard-earned money by requesting gift cards, wire transfers, and encrypted currencies. Some even go to the extent of involving their victims in online bank fraud and other international offenses.
The Federal Trade Commission receives countless reports each year regarding romance scams. In 2018 alone, people reported losing USD $143 million with this type of fraud! That’s a higher total than for any other type of scam reported to the FTC. The median reported loss was USD $2,600, for senior it skyrockets to $10,000.1
Here are some guidelines to help you spot a romance scammer and what you can do if you ever fall victim to one.
How it Works
Romance scams are part of what is known as an advance fee scam or catfish dating wherein scammers create fake profiles and strike a relationship with their targets. They build their trust by using personal information they find from social media profiles of others. Romance scammers pose as hard to resist love interests. Most of the time, they use made-up names or maliciously utilize the identities of real people like military personnel or successful professionals that can help gain immediate trust. These criminals are masters of deception! They know how to manipulate emotional triggers to get their prey to believe in them. They tug at their victim’s heartstrings with stories about needing money for emergencies, hospital bills, or travel.
In some romance scams, dating predators have also asked their prey to receive stolen merchandise at their homes or receive money into their accounts from unknown sources. These can inadvertently involve their “sweethearts” in serious criminal offenses.
How to Spot a Scammer?
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but if your love interest is asking for money, more than likely, it’s a romance scam. Fortunately, like all scams, these crooks follow patterns and there are clues you can pick up.
In most advance fee scam or catfish dating cases, they claim to live abroad and have a job that requires them to travel. Since they are looking to get very personal information, they will profess their love rather quickly and ask to move the conversation out of the dating site to other communication platforms like e-mail. Their messages also tend to have multiple grammatical errors, are vague, or are carbon copies from texts you can find online.
Their victims are generally so entranced that they don’t pick up on the clues. Things like their e-mail addresses don’t match their actual names, accent changes throughout their conversations, they don’t keep promises, or refuse to coordinate in-person meetings.
How to Avoid Losing Money to a Romance Scammer?
There’s one very simple rule to follow, never send money or gifts to someone you haven’t met in person. These romance scammers will do everything they can to cloud your judgment and make you think with your heart, not with your head. So the rule of thumb here is to avoid arranging up-front payments, making wire transfers, sending pre-loaded cards, or international fund transfers if you don’t know the person well.
Finding a potential partner is a huge responsibility, so take it one step at a time. Do your homework and pay attention to things that don’t make sense. Take extra care to not share any personal information or pictures that might harm you in any way. Don’t send any critical documents electronically or via mail. Listen to what your family and friends say about your new-found love. More likely than not, they will probably spot things that you don’t want to see.
What to do if you are a Victim?
If you are a victim to an online dating scam, you need to act quickly! First, stop all forms of communication with the romance scammer. If you have provided sensitive information, immediately contact the corresponding financial or governmental institutions. Report your romance scam to your local enforcement. Then, report that person to the website or social network where you met her/him and have the company shut down their profile. Fight the urge to confront the romance scammer or physically going to where its located. They can be part of criminal organizations, and you could be putting your life at risk if you do so.
Even though the chances of retrieving the money that you sent are back are slim, you can set an example by helping the authorities ensure that more victims don’t fall prey. Search your e-mails and text messages for clues that might help the authorities. Make consumer and trade organizations aware of your situation. There may be tens of thousands of victims, and only a small fraction report it to the FTC. If you’re a victim, please report it at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/ — click on Rip-Offs and Imposter Scams, then select Romance Scams. The less anonymous this problem becomes, the more vulnerable these criminals become.
Unfortunately, romance scams are very real and all too common. Every day more fall victim to them. The best piece of advice is that to not let your emotions take control of the situation and more importantly, your judgement. Be careful with whom you fall in love with and look for the red flags. If you are already a victim, don’t be embarrassed! It’s okay to ask for help. Bottomline, go in search of true love and that perfect soulmate while keeping yourself and your finances safe!