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Romance and Dating Scams

 

Although the FBI has categorized Romance and Dating Scams under “common scams and crimes, romance scams can be devastating, causing lasting psychological, material, and emotional damage to victims. It is not uncommon for romance scams to ruin lives and bury futures.

The perpetrators of romance scams usually assume a fake online identity and use social media networks and dating sites to contact their would-be victims. Having gained the affection and trust of the victim, the romance scammer uses the illusion of a romantic relationship to manipulate victims into paying them money.

Romance scams can feature various levels of sophistication. Some of the clumsier scammers do not even bother using fake identities. While they can be tracked down and prosecuted for their crimes easier, they still inflict enduring damage on the victims.

The most dangerous scammers always hide behind a fake identity and they will not stop at anything until they have well and truly fleeced their victims. They will propose marriage or meeting in person, they will fake various emergencies, and they will forge fake documents.

The most voracious romance scammers will even drive a wedge between their victims and the loved ones of the scammed, upending their lives in every possible way.

The niche is a lucrative one for criminals, and that motivates them to be highly creative.

What makes romance scams so devastating is that their victims are vulnerable, lonely people who often have a hard time handling the shame when the scheme collapses. Many choose to suffer in silence, embarrassed to report their losses to the authorities or talk about them to friends/family.

According to the FTC, in 2019 alone, victims lost more than $210 million to romance scams. Since then, the numbers have likely grown even direr. Compared to 2018, in 2019, romance scams netter cybercriminals 40% more money.

According to the same FTC report, in 2019, more than 25,000 consumers filed reports with the Commission in the US alone. The global size of the romance scam “market” is difficult to ascertain.

To some, it may come as a surprise that most victims of romance scams are women. Scammers are not picky, however. They will target anyone, from any walk of life, as long as they suspect the victim may have savings or access to money that they can steal. 

To help you recognize a romance scam, we take a closer look at the lies scammers use and some the ways they tend to operate. If you want to save yourself heartaches, embarrassment, and money, observing a simple rule can serve you extremely well. If a person you do not know and have not physically met asks you to send him/her money online, you are dealing with a scam. 

Lies Romance Scammers Tell

Almost in all cases, the name used by the scammer is fictitious. His/her identity is a fake one, forged using pictures and video material lifted from other people’s websites, social media profiles, or obtained through cybercrime, such as database hacks.

A romance scammer will usually claim to reside in a country different from yours, preferably on a different continent. Scammers may also claim that they are travelling abroad or working there.

Do not underestimate the patience and persistence of romance scammers. Some of them will sink months or even years into getting you acquainted with their fake persona and building up trust.

Common romance scam angles may claim that the perpetrator is working on an offshore oil rig, at a remote military installation, or with an international charity. Scammers may also pretend to work in construction, on a project in a different country.

The “remoteness” angle makes it more plausible for them to avoid meeting in person and later ask for payments to cover various fictitious costs.

Having established rapport and trust, scammers move on to the second phase of their scheme. They come up with a make-believe emergency, and they:

  • Ask their victims to loan them money to cover travel expenses/to make it possible for them to return home
  • Request money for a plane ticket
  • Fake a medical emergency and request money to cover the costs of non-existing surgeries, etc
  • Pretend to have gambling problems and ask for money to pay off debts
  • Pretend to want to visit and request money for travel documents and visa fees
  • May request money to cover customs fees and recover various fictitious items of purportedly great value

How Romance Scammers Want You to Pay

Scammers prefer payment methods that are difficult or impossible to track and reverse. Thus, they will likely ask you to pay through a wire transfer, gift cards/reload cards, MoneyGram, Western Union, or an online remittance provider, such as Remitly.

If your new online “crush” mentions cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, this is a red flag. Cryptocurrencies are notoriously difficult to track and recover, although organizations such as CNC Intelligence Inc. offer tracking and recovery solutions, it is best not to send the funds in the first place.

A Few Facts about Romance Scams According to Special Agent Christine Beining of the FBI

 

For more information please see the video of Special Agent Christine Beining here https://www.fbi.gov/video-repository/romance-scam-agent021317.mp4/view

  • Most victims of romance scams are women above 40. Be aware, however, that as long as you are online and you have disposable money, you could be a target as well, regardless of gender and age.
  • Romance scammers pour through social media/networking sites and choose their victims based on the information they post on their profile.
  • Skilled cybercriminals are very good at using the information you provide voluntarily through your social media profile to manipulate you.
  • Although sometimes they can be extremely patient, most romance scammers aim to move quickly, telling their victims what they want to hear, proposing marriage, etc.
  • Scammers actively seek out people who are divorced or widowed. They see this demographic as emotionally more vulnerable, and they aim to cash in on this perceived “weakness.
  • Perpetrators may promise that they will repay the victims as soon as they get out of the purported fix, in which they say they are. This way, they reduce the “stakes” of the transaction, making the victim believe it is just a temporary loan.
  • Behind many of the scams, there are criminal organizations and networks. Once victims accept the proposal and send money, they land on a “sucker list.” The criminals then share their victim’s identities among themselves, allowing others to target those already “burnt.
  • Doing some research on the scammer’s profile will often yield enough relevant information to allow the would-be victim to recognize the scam and avoid it.
  • Unfortunately, law enforcement has seen victims fall for romance scams repeatedly.  
  • Law enforcement encourages victims to share their ordeals with others to prevent other potential victims from falling for a romance scam.
  • Sometimes, cybercriminals may request bank account details from their victims, with the stated intent to deposit money. If they manage to get the information, they use the bank account for other cyber theft and fraud schemes.

What Can You Do to Avoid Romance Scams?

 

Despite the increasingly sophisticated schemes scammers cook up, the victim always has the power to avert disaster. Never send money to anyone you do not personally know or have not met personally. 

 

  • Be very careful what you post on your social media profiles. This is the foremost source of information for scammers. You would be surprised to learn how well scammers can understand and emotionally engage you through this information.  
  • Run a reverse search<https://www.google.com/imghp> on the person’s photos. Such searches reveal other instances of the picture available online. If you notice that your “crush” is already present online under three different names, you will know that you are dealing with a scam. Less sophisticated romance scammers always steal their photos online, so reverse image search can indeed help you avert disaster.
  • If a person asks you to leave the social media or dating site and communicate directly through email or a messaging app, consider it a red flag.
  • Do not be afraid to question everything your interlocutor tells you.
  • Never share inappropriate pictures of yourself. Scammers may use them to blackmail you. Never share any financial information in any shape or form.
  • Scammers may attempt to distance you from your loved ones. Isolated and without a second opinion acting as the voice of reason, you will be more vulnerable. Consider such attempts a giant red flag.
  • If you fail to set up a personal meeting with your interlocutor for a few months, you should see that as a red flag as well, especially if he/she comes up with excuses to avoid meeting.
  • Never send money to a person with whom you have only communicated online or through the phone.
  • Stop communicating with the person you suspect of being a scammer.
  • Pay attention to how your family/friends react to your online “relationship.” The more people know about it, the more likely it is someone will open your eyes to the scam.
  • Run a search on the job your online “crush” claims to have, and see if you run into instances of people being scammed through such claims.
  • Never travel alone to meet someone you met online.
  • If you visit a foreign country to meet a romantic interest contact your embassy before your visit.
  • Read all travel advisories associated with a foreign country before your visit.

The toxicity of romance scams often leads not only to financial fraud, but also results in heartbreak and can destroy your meaningful relationships.

The first step of your healing process is to reengage with your family and friends and build back your support structure. The emotional recovery from a romance scam, can take time and if you need to speak with someone, do not hesitate to get professional help from a licensed therapist or counsellor.

Any financial loss should be considered secondary to your emotional and mental well-being.  And in order to consider any options to recover your funds, you should first make sure to be in an emotional state to make good decisions and have the support of your loved ones to lean on.