Did you know romance scams cost Americans more money than any other type of internet fraud? The FBI reports more than 15,000 people were scammed out of approximately $210 million in 2017. Learn how to avoid being a victim of this heartless crime and how to report a scammer here.
Why is this fraud?
Romance scams can have many levels of deception. Not only are these scammers taking money from vulnerable individuals through manipulation and false identities, there may be more going on than meets the eye.
If you wire money to a scammer or to someone else on behalf of a scammer, you may unwittingly be a part of a fraud ring, putting you at risk. Many of these scammers act alone, but often they are part of a larger organized crime unit in countries like Nigeria and Ghana. They may ask you for your online banking login information so they can deposit checks into your account. Beware of this, as the checks deposited via mobile typically are returned as counterfeit, leaving you responsible for the money. If you get instructions to deposit a check or send money or gift cards to someone else, this could be part of a money laundering operation.
What is a romance scam?
Romance scams take place on dating sites and social media channels. Scammers create fake profiles using stolen photographs and made-up identities, then they develop an online relationship with a victim, often grooming them until a seemingly real connection is established. Once a personal connection is made, the scammer starts to ask for money. The story behind why they need the money will be very convincing, but provide very little detail, making it impossible to verify the story.
Here are some signs of a romance scam:
- They ask to chat outside of the dating or social media site. This removes the option of reporting them to the site and allows them to keep their profile clean to find another victim.
- They quickly profess their love and use overly emotional writing.
- The name often will consist of two first names such as “John James.”
- The facts given are vague and often can’t be easily confirmed, or they will not answer questions about their occupation, family, or hometown.
- They tell unrealistic stories/ Often a string of bad luck prevents them from coming to see you.
- They insist on keeping the relationship a secret from your family and friends.
Hint: A quick way to see if someone’s profile is authentic is to search for parts of the profile on a search engine like Google. If it comes back with matches on other sites, you may be dealing with a scammer.
Questions to ask your partner.
If you think you may be the target of a romance scam, there are questions you can ask to help you determine whether or not the relationship, and the person, are genuine.
Will you send me a picture?
Ask to see a real-time photograph of where they are right now, holding a sheet of paper with the date and their name written on it. If they refuse, it may be a red flag that the person you’re talking to is not the person in the social media profile picture.
Why won’t you come visit?
Consistent excuses, often involving unbelievable details, could be an indication of a scam.
Can you tell me about your hometown?
Google Street View can help you confirm landmarks and alert you to whether or not your online partner is telling the truth about their identity.
Why do I have to keep this a secret?
Is a relationship realistic if you’re being asked to hide the conversations from friends or family?
What to do if you’re in a “relationship.”
Slow down, take a breath and walk away from the computer for a day. Scammers often act with a sense of urgency – they need money for an emergency, and they need you to send it now. Real romantic partners understand if you need time away from the computer; scammers do not. Slow down and talk about your online relationship with someone you trust. If these warning signs sound familiar to you, stop all communication and report the person to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
What can happen?
According to the FBI, once you have been scammed and sent money, you may be placed on a “sucker list.” Once on this list, your name and identity is shared with other criminals for future scams.
These master manipulators spend hours honing their skills, keeping detailed logs and journals on their victims to better understand how to manipulate and exploit them. This scam has been found to cause a devastating double hit to victims – a financial loss and the loss of a relationship. If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, it is important to report your experience. You can report it to the FBI here.