It’s Valentine’s Day and romance is in the air. Scammers, however, are looking for victims, not love.
Did you know that romance scams cost Americans more money than any other type of internet fraud? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that, in 2018, people lost more than $140 million to romance scams.
The average victim lost $2,600; however, for people over 70, the median reported loss was $10,000. Experts believe that only 15% of victims ever report these crimes, so the true figures are likely much higher.
What is a romance scam?
Scammers use online dating sites, mobile games with chat functions such as Words with Friends, Facebook and other social media to initiate a relationship with their victims. They create fake profiles using stolen photographs and false identities.
While developing an online relationship, scammers often “groom” victims until they have established a seemingly real connection. Once the person begins to trust them, the scammers ask for money.
There is typically a story behind why the scammers need the funds, but they don’t provide many details, so victims cannot verify the story for themselves.
How do bankers recognize these scams?
South State bankers are trained to spot signs of potential identity theft and fraud, such as unusual account activity. They take note if a customer suddenly begins wiring money or seems anxious or hurried and does not want to provide any information about a transaction.
Bankers will notify the Fraud team if they suspect a customer has become victim of a scam. Together they will work with the customer to ensure no fraudulent transactions take place and that their account remains secure.
Why is a romance scam considered fraud?
Not only do these scammers take money from vulnerable individuals through manipulation and false identities, they often involve victims in a larger ring of fraudulent activity.
People who wire money to a scammer or to someone else on behalf of a scammer may unwittingly be a part of a fraud ring, putting them at risk. While scammers sometimes act alone, they can be part of a larger organized crime unit in foreign countries such as Nigeria and Ghana.
Scammers may occasionally ask victims for online banking credentials, so they can deposit “checks” into the victim’s account. The deposited checks are typically returned as counterfeit, leaving the customer responsible for the funds. If a customer receives instructions to deposit a check and send money or gift cards to someone else, this could be part of a larger money laundering operation.
Customers who fall for these scams are likely to be targeted again, which is why it is very important to promptly report a suspected scam to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Visit South State’s website to learn more about protecting yourself from fraud.