Love is in the air and internet searches for flowers, chocolates, and loving gift ideas are a sure sign that Valentine's Day is just around the corner. While the celebration will be different compared to last year, something that has not changed are romance scams.
Romance scams have been common for years and have become more popular with regular use of online dating platforms. According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams led to losses of $201 million in 2019 for scam victims, up from $33 million in 2015.
The Anatomy of the Scam
Scam artists create fake profiles for online dating platforms by using stolen data and information. It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between a scam profile and a real one. The scammer quickly tries to interact with profiles of potential victims.
The conversation usually begins through the dating application, but quickly moves to email and text messages. This builds a level of comfort and familiarity and prevents the safety measures used by dating applications.
Once away from the platform the scammer is quick to share a believable "emergency," and request the victim send money or even gift cards. The scam artist will promise to repay the money as soon as they "get paid" or are out of the current situation, but that day never comes.
Once the victim sends money, there is undoubtedly another reason that the initial payment was not enough. This cycle may go on for weeks, until the victim realizes that they have been victimized. Then the scammer will stop communicating altogether.
Know the Red Flags:
- The conversation takes place almost entirely digitally
It is common for scammers to be outside the United States and use fake information to create their dating profile. In order to avoid detection, they quickly move the conversation from the dating platform to a more personal format, like text messaging, email, or other forms of online chat.
- The scammer talks about international work or travel
It is typical for the scammer to come up with a believable story that requires financial help while they are away for work or pleasure. They typically are looking for a wire transfer or gift cards to help bail them out of the trouble. These types of transactions provide the scammer with immediate access to the funds, are often untraceable, and once the money is gone, it cannot be refunded.
- The scammer may claim a local connection but can never really meet in person
They may claim to have lived in an area near your hometown but have moved away for work or medical reasons. A simple internet search can give scammers everything they need to know to create that sense of connection with their victim.
- The story is believable
They may claim an emergency, health issue, or even a simple problem with a payment they were expecting. Sometimes the story is very detailed, giving the scammer more reasons to need additional funds. The scenarios are limitless, the more believable and heartfelt the better.
There is no shame in falling victim to a scam; it can happen to anyone. It may be embarrassing to admit, but there are important steps you should take if you become a victim:
- File reports with local police, the PA Attorney General's Office, and the Federal Trade Commission. This is helpful if you have lost money or given up your personal information that would lead to identity theft. You can also submit information to email@example.com – the PA Criminal Intelligence Center (PaCIC) - if you suspect a scam.
- Monitor your credit. Keep a close eye on your accounts and credit reports for unauthorized accounts or transactions.
- Contact your financial institution. While funds transferred internationally are rarely recovered, it is important to inform your financial institution for any corrective action that can be taken.
- Keep a notebook of anything related to the scam. This will go a long way in helping ongoing investigations by helping you remember everything that happened. Print anything related to the scam and keep it and other correspondence in the notebook.
- Protect yourself. Use the following resources to learn more:
- Recognize the red flags of a scam and maintain vigilance when something sounds too good to be true.
- Stay Safe Online. Learn about ways to protect yourself from trusted and knowledgeable resources.