Romance Scams Heat up as More Shelter at Home
It's that most romantic time of the year when many single folks long to find a perfect someone who makes their heart sing. There's no question that dating has presented new challenges during the pandemic. Zoom meetings are not what most folks have in mind when they're looking for love.
Before you venture into the pandemic era's unique singles scene, there are several basic scams you should study. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) tracks these scams rigorously and estimates thieves grabbed over $201 million in cash via romance fraud in 2019 alone.
Government estimates don't include scams never reported to the FTC or state fraud offices. It's alarming, as these scams in 2019 raked in over six times as much as they did in 2015. The growth curve is explosive.
Now, you probably think that you've never encountered anyone who'd do such a thing. Think again. If you use an online dating site, you've probably communicated with someone lurking behind a fake profile. You just didn't know it. If you connect on Facebook and seem to have mutual friends, that's another ploy tailored for deception.
What Are the Warning Signs?
The fraud begins when you think you've made a strong connection with someone online. Look out for signs like these:
- A Romeo or Juliet you've never met expresses love reasonably soon into the relationship.
- They promise to come to visit and meet you in person but can't afford it right now.
- He or she may need emergency cash for several reasons, including a medical emergency or something more commonplace like a broken-down vehicle.
- The scammer may claim to live overseas or be deployed with the military. Their fictitious job could be aboard an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. There's always a reason why you can't meet face-to-face.
Do You Have Suspicions?
Romance scammers often use photos of others, not themselves. Make a copy of the individual's profile and photo to keep on file if the scammer vanishes.
You can use services like images.google.com to search for photo matches online. Some attractive photographs are reused often. All you have to do is upload the photo you captured, and then Google will search for matches.
You should also perform a deep online dive to learn about this individual. Get as many answers as you can online before you spend even a week communicating. You can easily research email addresses or phone numbers. Any legitimate prospect should be willing to share their hometown and other contact data. In practice, scammers are sometimes overly eager to divulge contact info because they'd prefer to communicate outside of your mutual dating app or social media page.
If you agree to send money and the person on the other end requests that you pay in gift cards, that's game over. This is a scam. Gift cards have their place as gifts, but increasingly scammers use them too because such transactions are difficult to trace or reverse.
Does Age Matter?
Never believe you are too old to be targeted. Anyone can get lonely, and senior singles often have more resources to target. That makes elders a high-risk group for all types of fraud.
In late 2020, the U.S. Attorney for Oklahoma obtained the third in a series of convictions in one Nigerian romance plot. Using data gleaned from social media and other sources, these romance imposters can be incredibly convincing.
"Whether these con artists are romancing vulnerable elder victims online or facilitating money laundering to hide the illicit proceeds, this U.S. Attorney's Office will never stop fighting to get justice for the victims," said U.S. Attorney Trent Shores on December 31, 2020. "Today, the third conspirator is brought to justice for his role in a Nigerian romance scheme."
The problems faced by elders are so sinister that the U.S. Attorney joined forces with A.A.R.P. to issue a lengthy list of red flags in the romance game. The U.S. Attorney also offers an Elder Justice Initiative that can help.
Another significant concern is the risk of being sucked into a money laundering scheme. If your romantic spark asks you to set up a new bank account, it's a scam, too.
If you suspect fraud, lock down your financial accounts right away. Change any passwords that might have been stolen or shared. Did you wire money but now have second thoughts? Call your bank IMMEDIATELY. There's no guarantee, but some wire transfers can be canceled if caught early.
Bounce your situation off a good friend and seek objective feedback. They're most likely to spot improbable relationships because they know you best. Report all potential scammers to the dating site where you met them. Also, file a formal complaint with the FTC. Finally, share this article with friends and family.
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