For most people, Valentine’s Day conjures images of romance. For cybercriminals, it’s a day of dollar signs.
Romance and dating scams, in which fraudsters adopt a fake online identity to gain someone’s trust and affection, can happen any time of the year.
Last year, Americans lost over $200 million in romance scams, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Younger adults are more likely to report losing money in these ploys while older adults tend to have bigger-dollar losses from these scams.
Using the Cover of COVID-19
During the coronavirus pandemic, reports of romance scams have already risen by 20% following a decline in incidents during 2019, according to the Better Business Scam Tracker.
Before this era of stay-at-home orders, many people never would have thought to start a relationship with someone they hadn’t met in person.
One report described a woman searching for companionship online after the death of her husband. She met a fraudster on a legitimate dating site, who showered her with affection, but couldn’t meet in person because he claimed to work on an offshore oil rig. After explaining that his accounts were temporarily frozen by the bank, and sharing a fabricated bank statement that showed he had $3 million in savings, he asked the victim for a loan. After lending the fraudster $25,000, the victim never heard from them again.
Romance Red Flags
Romance scams often come with red flags that potential victims ignore in the excitement of meeting someone new.
Scammers will often shower the victim with devotion too quickly, commit to a relationship sight unseen or even propose marriage. Fraudsters also often make up excuses for why they cannot meet in person, even with social distancing safeguards. They may cancel a visit because of an emergency or explain that they are not able to visit due to their job that requires them to constantly travel. They’ll even make excuses for why they can’t even video chat.
Of course, the real reason is that they don’t want their target to know what they actually look like. And in some cases, the person a victim is chatting with may not even be a person; some dating scams use computer code script to generate messages.
The biggest warning sign is when someone you only know from online messages needs money for an emergency. When a virtual stranger asks you to pay for their surgery, traveling expenses to return to the US, to help finish a project, to keep their job or to pay off gambling debts, you can bet it’s a scam.
Typically, scammers put up a fake account or target people on popular social networking sites, like Facebook, Instagram and dating apps like Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid or Coffee Meets Bagel. They put a lot of effort into creating a trustworthy online persona. They often claim to have an impressive job or other characteristics that make them appealing.
Scammers are also attentive, often chatting with their victims several times a day. Sometimes they’ll even show you a bank account (although fake) with large balances.
5 Ways To Protect Against Romance Scams
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with looking for connection online. However, it's important to take sensible steps to protect yourself against love scams. Here are 5 tips to help keep you from falling for romance scams:
Be wary if someone professes their love to you too quickly or pressures you to do something that makes you uncomfortable.
Fraudsters often entice their victims by sending attractive photos. To check if they’re real, there are numerous sites where you can go do free image searches. You upload a photo and powerful software will find other places on the Internet the photo has appeared. Google Image Search, Bing Visual Search, Getty Images, and TinEye are some of the popular reverse-image searches that can reveal if your heartthrob’s photo is really from a magazine ad or an unsuspecting person’s Facebook page.
Don’t send money from your bank account, or wire money, no matter how real the relationship might seem. Whenever sending money to someone you know, take extra care to ensure you trust the recipient, and that you are using their correct banking information.
Fraudsters often ask their victims to reload MoneyPak cards or send them gift cards from Amazon, iTunes or some other vendor. These transactions are nearly impossible to reverse and are similar to cash in that regard
Many scams go unreported due to the victims’ embarrassment. If you have been a victim of a romance scam, report it to the FBI (https://www.ic3.gov/), FTC (ftc.gov/complaint), and notify the website or app where you met the scammer. You could help yourself and help other potential victims from ending up heartbroken – and broke.
First Republic offers a range of cybersecurity services to proactively safeguard your accounts and improve your security posture. To schedule and learn more about these services, please contact your Preferred Banker, Relationship Manager, or Wealth Manager .
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