Romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim. The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring, and believable. Con artists are present on most dating and social media sites. The scammer’s intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself to the victim, and gain trust. Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. Eventually, they will ask for money. Scam artists often say they are in the building and construction industry and are engaged in projects outside the U.S. That makes it easier to avoid meeting in person—and more plausible when they ask for money for a medical emergency or unexpected legal fee. If someone you meet online needs your bank account information to deposit money, they are most likely using your account to carry out other theft and fraud schemes.
If you suspect an online relationship is a scam, stop all contact immediately. If you are the victim of a romance scam, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Tips for Avoiding Romance Scams:
- Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
- Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.
Victim Tells Her Story
Agent Describes Scam
- 02.14.2022FBI Salt Lake City: Tips To Avoid Romance ScamsSpecial Agent Jule Albretsen shares tips on how to avoid romance scams when dating online.
- 02.11.2022FBI Salt Lake City Scam Victim Tells Their StoryIn August of 2017, «Darlene» met «Giovanni» who scammed her out of almost $530,000.
- 01.28.2022FBI Phoenix Tech Tuesday: Romance ScamsA special agent in the FBI’s Phoenix Field Office describes the warning signs of romance scams.
- 12.02.2021Victim of Romance Scam Who Became Money Mule Tells StoryGlenda, an 81-year-old victim of a romance scam, describes how she became a money mule and is now paying the price. She pleaded guilty on November 2, 2021 for two federal crimes.
- 02.10.2021FBI Washington Field Office Warns of Romance ScamsThe FBI’s Washington Field Office issued a warning about romance scams.
- 12.07.2017FBI, This Week: Criminals Put Holiday Spin on Internet-Facilitated SchemesThe FBI says criminals put a holiday twist on the methods they use to scam you online during this time of year.
- 02.13.2017Special Agent Christine Beining Describes Romance ScamsChristine Beining, a special agent in the FBI’s Houston Division, describes how scam artists use Internet sites to prey on lonely individuals to get to their money.
- 02.13.2017Victim of Romance Scam Tells Her StoryThe victim of a romance scam describes how she was duped out of $2 million by an online suitor she has never met.
- 02.13.2017Romance ScamsA woman who lost $2 million to a con artist who she fell in love with online shares her story in the hopes that others might avoid falling victim to this type of crime.
- 02.10.2016Overseas Romance Scams RisingThe FBI says an increasing number of Americans are becoming victims of romance scams originating from West Africa.
- 01.07.2016African Romance ScamsAn increasing number of Americans are becoming victims of romance scams originating from West Africa.
- 02.05.2015Romance ScamsRomance scams, also known as confidence scams, result in the highest amount of financial losses when compared to other Internet-facilitated crimes.
February 8, 2021 Video Source: Federal Trade Commission By Cindy Schubert
Senior V.P. of Bank Operations Thanks to online dating scams, each year thousands of Americans who are searching for love end up with nothing but a broken heart and an empty wallet. While online dating and social media sites have become increasingly popular tools to find love and friendship, they’ve unfortunately also become popular tools for fraudsters known as romance scammers. These con artists create fake profiles to lure in victims, establish romantic relationships and eventually, extort money. According to the Better Business Bureau, victims in the U.S. and Canada have reported losing more than $1 billion over the past few years to online romance scam artists. Older users, in particular, are more often targeted by this type of scam — and most don’t realize they are a victim until it is too late. In this article, we’ll identify common online dating scams and offer some tips on how to tell if someone is scamming you online. We also have information about how to report a dating scammer if you or someone you love has fallen victim to one.
4 Common Signs of a Romance Scammer
Romance scammers are experts in social manipulation and can sound very convincing. Many of the signs of a romance scammer are subtle and insidious because the scammer is trying to build trust before they exploit you. To avoid online dating scams, be on the lookout for these four red flags when you’re getting to know someone online:
1. Romance scammers profess love quickly, without actually meeting you.
Often times, the first sign of an online dating scam shows up when a romance scammer expresses strong emotions in a relatively short period of time. They may even say that they’re in love with you, but it’s a tactic they’re using to get you to give up personal details and answers to the security questions that you use to lock down your accounts across the Internet. Guard your personal information carefully, and be wary if a new love interest asks for personal details soon after contact.
2. Romance scammers claim to need money for emergencies, hospital bills or travel.
Be suspicious of anyone who asks you for financial assistance, no matter how dire their circumstances seem to be. If you encounter one of these storylines when you’re talking to a new love interest on the internet, there’s a good chance they’re scamming you.
- «I need money to support a sick relative.»
- «I need a short-term loan for airfare to visit you.»
- «I need some startup money for a business venture.»
- «I need funds to finalize a loved one’s funeral.»
- «I’m a US service member overseas, and I need some money.»
3. Online romance scammers try to lure you off the dating site.
Often times, scammers convince victims to leave the dating site and use personal email or instant messaging to continue communication. At first, this might not seem like a red flag. When you are getting to know someone, you’ll naturally want to move beyond the dating site and use other forms of communication. Be very cautious when someone asks for your phone number or email address. This makes it even easier for them to access your personal information. If you want to communicate outside of the dating site, set up an alternate email address or utilize an instant messaging app that isn’t connected to personal information like your primary email and phone number.
4. Romance scammers plan to visit, but they always cancel because of some «emergency.»
If an online love interest makes plans to visit but always seems to change their plans at the last second because of a traumatic event, family drama or a business loss, you should be very suspicious. Often, their cancellation will be accompanied by a request for a short-term loan. Look out for someone who says something like, «I really want to meet you, but I can’t buy a plane ticket right now because of x. If you buy me a ticket, I will pay you back! I just want to be together.»
Tips for Avoiding Online Dating Scams
Once you know how to tell if someone is scamming you online, you should have better success avoiding online dating scams, and you will maintain better overall online safety. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends taking the following precautions when you’re using dating sites and social media to meet people:
- Cross-check and verify. Conduct an online search to cross-check the person’s name, photo, location, email address and other details for legitimacy.
- Slow down and talk to someone you trust. Tell a friend or family member about your situation, and discuss your next steps with them. A romance scammer might try to isolate you from friends and family or pressure you to make impulsive decisions alone. Don’t let a scammer rush you into making any sort of decision.
- Do not send money. Never wire money, put money on a gift card or cash reload card, or send cash to an online love interest. You won’t get it back.
- If you have already sent money, report it. Contact your financial institution right away if you think you’ve sent money to a scammer.
How to Report an Online Dating Scammer
If you are concerned that you or a loved one has fallen victim to an online dating scam, you should report your experience to whichever online dating or social media site you were on. You should also file a complaint with the FTC.
What Really Matters
When you know how to report a dating scammer, it can be empowering. Many times, victims who report a scam feel a sense of relief after notifying authorities. Not only can it help with their personal circumstance, it can also prevent people from falling victim to the romance scammer in the future. Once you report a suspected scam, your financial institution will work with you on the next steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.
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Romance scams are usually initiated online and often prey on vulnerable people. Scammers create fake online profiles and attempt to build phony emotional attachments until a potential victim is comfortable sending them money. Victims can be both men and women. Many times, the criminal targets older people and those who may be struggling in a relationship and/or are emotionally vulnerable. Though most criminals aim for vulnerable targets, affluent and well-educated individuals have also fallen victim to these type of scams. In general, these scams have the potential to affect everyone. Criminals do extensive research on potential victims, looking through social media and dating sites for posts divulging information about their lives and personalities. They are expert manipulators and use these open, personal posts against the victim, cultivating them over a long period of time. Victims feel there is a real connection, romantic interest, and become invested in the online relationship. The internet provides anonymity, allowing criminals unlimited time trolling for potential victims hoping someone will take the bait.
Learn some ways to keep yourself safe online Be careful of what you post online Use reputable websites, although keep in mind that scammers are on these as well. If you develop a relationship online: Research the person’s photo and profile Ask questions. If a person seems too good to be true, they probably are. Beware if you are asked for inappropriate photos or financial information. Do not send money to people you meet online and have never met in person. Be suspicious if the person fails to show up for multiple attempts to meet and always has an excuse
Criminals often claim to be wealthy, or from affluent, prominent families, with business interests requiring they travel extensively outside the country. Scammers try to establish a relationship very quickly, gain their victim’s trust, and sometimes propose marriage. When victims attempt to meet them, the scammers never show up and always have excuses. Once trust is gained the scammers ask for money. This request could be to pay for a medical emergency or legal fee for themselves or another member of their family, or to help build their business with a promise to repay the loan immediately when they return from traveling. The victim never sees repayment and the scammer will continue asking for more money. Victims are often reluctant to report the crime because they are embarrassed and humiliated that they were duped and have become emotionally and financially invested in the relationship. Not only does this cause victims to send money to scammers, but they also can fall victim to other schemes. The intimate and personal information victims often provide can then be used for identity fraud and financial account takeover schemes, among others. Scammers may even convert their victims into unwitting criminals by convincing them to launder and move fraudulent funds, which the victim is then liable for both financially and potentially criminally. This scam is not purely romance-based, as there are many instances of this fraud in false job/work from home schemes. Scammers will contact potential victims through LinkedIn and other job sites, establish trust based on an employer/employee relationship then exploit the victims in the same pattern as romance scams. This is a difficult crime to prove and investigate as many of these scammers are overseas – Nigeria predominantly. These scammers are not lone-wolf operators, they operate in organized enterprise fraud rings using complex techniques. These scammers have been known to also spoof phone numbers and hire actors to communicate with the victims via phone to further establish the ill-derived trust.
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