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If You Loved Me, You’d Send Me Money

First Republic Bank
February 3, 2022

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 at any time of the year.

From January 2021 to July 2021, Americans lost over $133 million in romance scams, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Younger adults are more likely to report losing money in these ploys while older adults tend to have bigger dollar losses from these scams.

Ongoing loneliness in an ongoing pandemic

The continuation of remote work in 2021 yielded fewer in-person interactions for many, creating more of a reason for isolated individuals to look for connection online.

One report described a widow searching for companionship online who met a fraudster on a legitimate dating site. He 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, she never heard from him again. 

Romance red flags

Romance scams often come with red flags 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 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 claim that they can’t visit due to job-related travel demands. They’ll even make excuses for why they can’t 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 online needs money for an emergency. When a virtual stranger asks you to pay for their surgery, for their traveling expenses to return to the United States, to help them finish a project, to keep their job or to pay off their 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 and Instagram and dating apps like Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid and 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 show you a bank account with large balances, but it’s fake.

Free money is never free

In some cases, scammers will lure you in by offering to send you money. This type of attack mainly targets women and happens most frequently on social media sites like Instagram.

The scammer will often use emotional tactics to get victims to trust them. This time, however, they’ll offer to send you money through Venmo, PayPal or another public money transfer app.

In such scenarios, victims send their PayPal details to a scammer who promises to send them money. The scammers then respond saying they need the victim to first send them money to verify the pending payment. To make the story more believable, the scammer will send a photo of a fake PayPal account that shows the pending payment.

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. Listed below are five tips to prevent you from falling for romance scams.

Avoiding romance scams

1. Take your time.

Be wary if someone professes their love to you too quickly or pressures you to do something that makes you uncomfortable.

2. Check their photos.

Fraudsters often entice their victims by sending attractive photos. To check if they’re real, there are numerous sites where you can 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.

3. Never send or accept money.

Don’t send money from your bank account, or wire money, no matter how real the relationship might seem. Never accept money online from people you don’t know —  it always comes at a cost. Free money is never truly free.

4. Don’t buy gift cards.

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.

5. Report your experience.

Many scams go unreported due to the victims’ embarrassment. If you’ve been a victim of a romance scam, report it to the FBI (ic3.gov/FileComplaint) and FTC (ftc.gov/complaint) and notify the website or app where you met the scammer. You could help yourself and 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. To schedule and learn more about these services, please contact your personal banker or Relationship Manager.

 

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