Spotting and Avoiding Romance Scams
Millions of people search online for a love connection. But if the love interest is trying to get money out of you, it may be a sign that you’re falling for a scammer. If you’re looking for or involved in an online romance, here are some signs that it may be a romance scam.
Romance scammers make up stories to entice vulnerable victims searching for companionship. Unfortunately their goal isn’t a loving relationship. Instead they hunt for susceptible prey on dating apps, matchmaking websites, or social media sites; looking for someone to ensnare in their web of deceit. They are looking for money or other ways to defraud their victims.
Many start by creating attractive profiles. Oftentimes they steal someone else’s photos and create fake profiles. After sparking up a conversation they begin to work their way into the heart of their victim. Once they have gained their trust, they start asking for money or gifts. Here are some common stories scammers use to trick their targets:
- They are living outside of the country, in the military, or working internationally and need money to visit, obtain a visa or other travel documents, or to cover travel expenses.
- Someone they love or care for is experiencing a medical emergency and they need money to help with their medical care expenses.
- They need money to help with an emergency, repairs, gambling debts, or an investment opportunity.
These are just a few of the common scenarios. The stories they make up can be very convincing. The scammers will ask their “love” to wire money, purchase reload cards, send cryptocurrency, or get gift cards to send them. They may even entice them to turn over sensitive personal information such as their bank account information or identification. After they receive what they really are after, they disappear. The frequent communication dies out and the poor victim is left heartbroken and defrauded.
Be cautious if you are involved in an online romance. If you haven’t met in person but they ask for money, it’s a scam. No matter how good the story sounds, don’t send any money or share your sensitive information with them. Even if they send you money or a gift first, it is not a good idea to send anything. Romance scammers usually invest very little to deceive their victims, oftentimes using the profits they’ve made off of scamming others to entice the new victim.
Be wary of a love interest that says they can’t meet in person, communicate on the phone, or virtually chat. You should check out anyone you are becoming involved with. Use reverse image search to see if the person you’re talking to has other profiles or if the photo is stolen. Search their phone number, name, and email address to see what comes up. This may tip you off that the person is a scammer. You can also search for sentences from their initial message or profile description. Many times they use the same language with slight variations in their scam.
Be cautious if your new love:
- tries to lure you from the dating site immediately and wants to communicate by personal email, text, instant message, or phone;
- professes love for you almost immediately;
- claims to be from the U.S., but is traveling or working overseas;
- says they are planning to visit, but then claims they are unable to due to a traumatic event or a business deal gone bad;
- asks you to wire them money, send gifts, provide your financial or identification information, send cash, or set up a bank account.
Never send or forward money to people you meet online. Avoid sharing personal information or photos you wouldn’t want to be shared with others. Your information could be used to blackmail you or to defraud someone else. Watch out for messages from online love interests that contain strange links or ask you to download files which could expose your sensitive information.
If you plan to meet the individual you’ve met online, tell others you know and trust where you will meet. Preferably avoid meeting them alone. Never go abroad or overseas to meet someone you do not know.
If you think you have fallen for a romance scammer, STOP all communication with the person right away. While it may be embarrassing, confide in someone you trust to let them know what you’ve experienced. Letting others know what occurred can save someone else from falling victim to similar scams. It is not uncommon for scammers to resurface months or years later, under another name and profile to try again.
If you have given them access to your personal information, check and monitor your accounts and credit reports. Immediately report any unfamiliar activity. If you paid a romance scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away. Explain to them that you paid a scammer with the gift card and ask if they can refund your money. Contact the administrators of the app or website where you met the scammer to report them. You can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and the Federal Bureau of Investigation at ic3.gov.
Online dating scams are on the rise. According to a recent FTC report, people sent $547 million to online romance scammers last year. Due to the nature of the scam, victims may feel ashamed and oftentimes don’t report it. This is what crooks depend on and it is also how they continue to thrive. If you have been affected by a scam or know someone that has, report it to BCA for assistance.
Even if you aren’t involved in an online romance, share this information with someone that may need it. Make sure to follow Business Consumer Alliance on Facebook for trending information, scam alerts, and more.