How to Avoid Online Dating and Romance Scams

The holiday season is also a peak time for fake romance scammers. Thousands of Americans looking for new love to help usher in the new year will instead be scammed by online scammers who use fake identities and empty promises to talk lovers out of their savings – or worse.

More Californians report being victims of these scams than residents of any other state, which is indicative of the state’s size, if not necessarily its collective. loneliness. And while the top targets in 2020 were people aged 40 to 69, the Federal Trade Commission said in February, the number of reported victims grew up in every age group.

Consumers reported over 30,000 such scammers to the FTC in 2020, three times more than in 2016, and losses quadrupled to $304 million. The average loss was $2,500.

Are we becoming more trusting? Who knows? What we know is that pandemic was bless the scammershelping them achieve their goals from a distance and accelerating the growth of these crimes.

Luckily, there’s plenty of advice from the FTC and other privacy-conscious organizations on how to recognize and protect yourself from fan attire scammers.

hunting grounds

Romantic scammers roam any territory where people are looking for love or just trying to connect with strangers. This includes dating services and dating sites, as well as social networks where about half of the scammers emerged in recent years.

A key part of a scam is the scammer’s ability to pretend to be someone he or she is not. Think Peter Steiner. New Yorker cartoon show a dog in front of a computer and say: “On the Internet, no one knows that you are a dog”? This is the central issue here.

Some businesses, such as dating site EHarmony, are trying to prevent problems by preventing people from trolling the site looking for victims. They require users to fill out extensive profiles and then use that information to decide who can chat with whom on the site. However, even on sites and social networks that require the use of real names such as facebookscammers find ways to create fake accounts by copying other people’s images and creating fake backstories.

Botanist

Although their methods vary, all scammers start by trying to gain your trust, often through flattery and stories.

“They are very persuasive. They are very believable,” said Rhonda Perkins, an associate with the FTC’s Marketing Practices. In particular, she says, scammers thrive on finding ways to bond with their victims through shared experiences or interests.

“If you are religious, they are religious. If you love pets, they love pets. If you just experienced a crushing loss, they just experienced a crushing loss. They are really good at building those connections,” Perkins said. “They are insightful. They are listening. Based on what you’re talking about, they’re picking up those signals. They use it to reflect similar consumer interests.”

Once the hook is set, the scammers set to work to separate you from your money.

Chelsea King on romanskams.org described it like this: “Fraud starts with small requests to test the water. It could be anything from a paycheck that didn’t arrive to a Social Security check lost in the mail. The scammer will ask the victim for a loan with a promise to return it. If the victim agrees, the scammers know they have the green light to proceed.”

The questions may seem logical enough—your fan says she needs money to pay her dues on a dating app and keep in touch, or she wants to buy a plane ticket to see you. Or it could be something extraordinary and heartbreaking—say, a medical emergency or a family tragedy.

Fraudsters usually ask for gift cards or non-bank wire transfers (such as Western Union). Regardless of the amount or type of payment requested, the FTC advises, “Never send money or gifts to someone you haven’t seen in person, even if they send you the money first.”

A more insidious scam aims to trick a person into laundering money. According to the FBI, the scammer will ask the person he or she is flirting with online to help him with a task that involves getting some funds and then transferring them to a third party. What the “money mule“The middle does not understand that the funds are the proceeds of crime and the transfer is intended to prevent the police from tracing their source. Worse, if the scheme is exposed, the money mule could be prosecuted even if he or she had no idea the crime had been committed.

Crime Addict Podcast singled out another wrinkle this year. Several women across the country reported that they went to a bar to meet a man they had recently chatted with online, only to get up after being ordered to order two shots of an unusual liquor, and then another strange one appeared. the man tried. make them leave with it. Where that might have gone is anyone’s guess, but an FBI agent interviewed on the podcast suggested that the women might have been targeted for human trafficking.

red flags

Fraudsters often stick to a formula that has worked in the past. Here are some of the salient elements of a fake courtship ritual, according to the FTC, EHarmony, socialcatfish.com, a human search company, and a cybersecurity company. norton.

Their profiles promise an exceptional companion, but are generic enough to please almost anyone. This is how dating sites are designed – scammers try to match as many potential victims as possible.

They bring a whirlwind to the novel. forewarned socialcatfish.com: “Be careful if someone seems to be falling in love with you and they write and say all those loving things about you after a short amount of time,” especially if they haven’t even talked to you yet.

They say their job keeps them at bay – Indeed far. Military service is a general requirement. Beware of supposed military personnel asking for help paying for military-provided items, such as medical care.

They may agree to meet you in person, but they never really do. Perkins said the cases she handled at the FTC have a common thread: Criminals always have reasons why they can’t meet with you in person, but still need your money.

They may also find reasons not to video chat, and their online profiles have few photos.

They try to translate your conversations from the site where you met. The scammers do this to bypass the site’s security features.

They tell incoherent stories and give vague answers to specific questions. Meanwhile, their questions seem too personal or irrelevant.

They claim to have recently been widowed.

And when they ask for money, which they inevitably do, they are referring to a certain payment method that cannot be cancelled. If your new “soul mate” overseas tells you that the only way to help her is through Western Union, Perkins says, “that’s a scam.”

How to protect yourself

Avoid the temptation to plunge headlong into a new strained relationship. The scammers know that when you tumble quickly, your money can leak out. “We just can’t say enough: don’t send money orders or gift card numbers to someone you’ve met through an online dating site or social media,” Perkins said.

Before the relationship heats up, try to make sure your online crush is who they say they are. There are many sites that can collect public records, social media posts, and other published data associated with a name or address, albeit for a fee. You can also run a person’s profile picture(s) through a reverse image search, such as from Google or TinEye.com.

While you’re at it, run through some of the more poignant messages he or she sent you via Google. Pictures copied from someone else’s profile and reworked scripts are clear signs of a scammer. Do the same with your new beau’s stated occupation to see how many times people have been scammed by online boyfriends claiming to be that kind of person. Especially if your boyfriend claims to be working on offshore oil rig.

Insist on video chat. At the very least, you’ll know if the person you’ve chatted with matches his or her avatar.

Do not disclose sensitive personal or financial information.

Discuss your thoughts with people you trust to get their opinion on your fan’s legitimacy. Perkins said, “We’ve found that when people talk to someone they trust and get a good check, it helps them avoid losing money.” If your friends and family say they are concerned and that the whole setup sounds fishy, ​​listen to them.

And if you’ve concluded you’ve been scammed, Perkins said, contact the company that issued the gift card or money order and try to reverse the transaction, even if the chances of a refund are slim. Also tell about the person FTC, FBI and the place where you met the dream boat, which turned out to be a nightmare.