Over the last several years, dating apps and social networking sites have become an increasingly popular way to meet people for friendship and dating. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the way people meet and form relationships. With limited ability for in-person meet-ups, online dating experienced a significant rise, and with it, a rise in online scams.
According to the FTC, scams reports have skyrocketed in the past few years, with reported losses in 2020 reaching a record of $304 million. By no means does this mean it’s impossible to find love online, but it’s important to be aware of these scams if you are thinking about joining the online dating world or are already there. Here are some trends we’ve seen among romance scammers, as well as some tips of how to steer clear of them and what to do if you suspect you’re a victim of one.
What are romance scams?
A romance scam, also known as an online dating scam, is when cyber criminals adopt fake identities or compromise existing real accounts on online dating apps or social media to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The criminal uses their victim’s trust and their created illusion of romance or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim.
Below, we outline several common trends seen amongst scam artists to watch out for:
- Using social media as a targeting tool. Scammers use information on social media to target specific people. They target their victims by accessing their basic personal information, such us knowing who their friends are, where they live, where they work and what their hobbies are. This information helps them know what to say to reel their victim in quick.
- Pretending to be someone you know. A common trend among romance scammers is disguising themselves as past high school friends. In reality, they are not actually someone you went to high school with, and they’re using stolen information or a compromised profile to make you believe you know them and that you should feel safe talking to them.
- Looking at obituaries to target widows. Scammers take advantage of widows still grieving the loss of their spouse, who in a moment of sadness or loneliness will welcome their friendliness and attention.
- Make excuses when asked to meet in person. Through the course of the online ‘relationship,’ the scammer might make plans with their victim to meet in person, but that will never happen.
- They ask for or send money. Scammers usually ask money to be sent through gift cards/reload cards, wire transferring, or apps like Venmo and Cash App. They may also send their victim illegitimate funds that can later be debited from their account.
- Involved in careers or projects outside of the country. Scam artists tend to claim they are in the building or construction industry, in the military, or involved in projects overseas or out of the country for other reasons. This not only makes it easier to avoid meeting in person, but also makes them sound more credible when they claim to have no way to deposit a check or ask for money for a medical emergency or unexpected legal fee.
Tips for avoiding romance scams
As a precautionary measure, be extremely careful about what you post on social media and make public online. Scammers may use this information to take advantage of you. If you do meet someone online, complete a quick Google search to see if the same profile has been used elsewhere. As the connection progresses, be sure to take things slowly and ask many questions. Don’t rush into anything. Scammers will take advantage of this by forcing you to take quick, thoughtless decisions.
A big red flag to keep in mind is if the person attempts to isolate you from your friends or family or requests to leave the social media/dating app to communicate directly through text messaging, email or another more private form of communication before getting to know you a bit first.
And finally, never send money to anyone you’ve never met in person. Conversely, be cautious of money sent to you.
How to handle a romance scammer
If you suspect you’re a victim of a romance scam, take these actions immediately:
- Stop communicating with the person immediately.
- If a bank account was involved, notify your bank.
- Report suspicious profiles or messages to the dating app or social media platform. Then, report to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Learn more at ftc.gov/romancescams.
It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between a scam and a genuine person who wants to get to know you better online. By familiarizing yourself with these common trends and warning signs, you can decrease your chances of ending with a broken heart and an empty wallet.
Finally, as a final cyber security rule of thumb, remember to never give out your internet banking credentials. Read our other Security articles for more tips on avoiding scams, using technology safely, and more.