A New Twist in Romance Scams

october 15, 2021 | internet scams
Elderly man seeking romance using his smartphone

Romance Scams Burn Both Your Heart and Your Wallet as Scammers Drain Bank Accounts

Romance scams are not new. For decades, both local and international scammers have swindled innocent victims out of large cash deposits. But there's a new twist to this old scam that the FBI believes potential targets need to understand. It's an investment scam that the FBI notes has already raked in over $133 million in the first seven months of 2021.

Dating apps and social media have made it much easier for con artists to connect with would-be targets. First, the crook establishes an intense online relationship. Then the bad actor claims to have expertise in trading, stocks or cryptocurrency or know about a "sure thing." It's a dangerous tactic that draws credibility from the foundation of trust already established online. The scam capitalizes on loneliness and a desire for love.

Inside the Scam

The target is directed to a bogus website or fake app to learn about the investment opportunity.

"After the victim has invested an initial amount on the platform and sees an alleged profit, the scammers allow the victim to withdraw a small amount of money, further gaining the victim's trust," an FBI statement detailed.

Promises of big profits combined with reassurances from a love interest create an acute vulnerability. The victim then invests more, not realizing the reported profit on their account is an illusion.

Eventually, this scam ends predictably. First, the injured party tries to withdraw funds, but excuses arrive instead. Then, after a series of explanations on why a transfer can't occur right now—you haven't met the minimum account balance, for instance—the third round of deposits into the non-existent account can occur. Eventually, the fleeced target finds it impossible to reach their romantic interest or the investment firm, neither of which ever existed.

Staggering Losses

FBI statements indicate that 1,800 complaints have been filed so far in 2021, totaling $133,400,000 lost. Some simple math reveals that these victims lost an average of $74,000 each. And not all victims report their losses; some are too embarrassed, and others may not know who to contact.

Compared to 2019, when the FBI documented a total of $201 million in losses, these early numbers for 2021 indicate the United States is on track to set a new record. If the trend holds, the surge in this variety of romance-related scams will increase by more than 20%.

Shield Yourself

There is no such thing as too much common sense. Apply yours. Try to look at any investment offers without a romantic filter. Step back and consider how likely these offers really are. Don't bite on "get rich quick" lures.

It's vital to resist any prodding to act fast. Such pushes are a top scammer tactic; they don't give their victims time to think.

There are lots of red flags in romance schemes. Watch out for them.

  • Be suspicious of anyone declaring love early in a relationship.
  • Don't be rushed into any financial decisions.
  • Never share information like bank account numbers with someone you've never met face-to-face.
  • Research before you reach for your checkbook.

 These simple tactics could save you from a devious actor.

  • Share your thoughts and feelings with a good friend before the relationship goes very far.
  • Check out the investor website using WHOIS, a web service that records the registration of each domain name and who set it up. A website launched last week is one to avoid.
  • If you get scammed, report it to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center known as IC3. Your cash may be gone, but you could help the bureau shut down a scammer's entire operation.

This sort of bad news should be shared—with friends, neighbors and relatives. If you know someone who'd be highly vulnerable to a romance-laced investment scam, have the conversation today. Share the FBI's advice or check out the U.S. Department of Justice, which runs the Elder Justice Initiative. EJI offers specific guidance for elders. Senior citizens are frequent targets because they've amassed more assets. 

IDShield monitors dozens of data points for members, including investment accounts. You can even set alerts to notify you of strange transactions and spot a theft rapidly when the odds are best for clawing back those funds.

IDShield is a product of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”). LegalShield provides access to identity theft protection and restoration services. IDShield plans are available at individual or family rates. A family plan covers the named member, named member’s spouse or domestic partner and up to 10 dependent children under the age of 18. Certain benefits are only available with a 3Bureau identity theft plan and are not offered with a 1Bureau identity theft plan. For complete terms, coverage, and conditions, please see an identity theft plan.  All Licensed Private Investigators are licensed in the state of Oklahoma. An Identity Fraud Protection Plan (“Plan”) is issued through a nationally recognized carrier. LegalShield/IDShield is not an insurance carrier. This covers certain identity fraud expenses and legal costs as a result of a covered identity fraud event. See a Plan for complete terms, coverage, conditions, limitations, and family members who are eligible under the Plan.   

Learn more about protecting yourself against romance scams and fraud