- Romance and dating scams, where fraudsters adopt a fake online identity to gain someone’s trust and affection, can happen at any time of the year.
- In 2021, reported losses from romance scams totaled a record $547 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Experts believe the pseudo-anonymity and untraceability of blockchain make cryptocurrency the perfect tool for con artists.
The allure of online dating is that it provides a convenient and potentially effective way to meet new people and potentially find a romantic relationship. However, it is important to be cautious when using online dating sites and to be aware of the potential risks, such as the risk of falling victim to a romance scam.
As online dating popularity continues to increase, so do associated risks.
Stories about romance scams often start the same. Someone meets a potential partner on an app. The "partner", who is actually a scammer, claims they have an education from a familiar institution and have an impressive job. The conversation then turns to money, showing a portfolio with large gains for a particular cryptocurrency. The scammer hopes that their victim will be impressed by the image and show interest in participating in their fake cryptocurrency trading, often aggressively pressuring their target.
The moniker “pig butchering” was adopted to describe a type of investment scam. Pig butchering refers to investment scams where fraudsters “fatten up” a victim’s account to show false gains before then being fully emptied by the fraudsters.
It is important to note that fraudsters do not discriminate in choosing their victims. Victims can include all genders and age groups. Some demographics, however, may be more vulnerable to fraud attempts, including women and the elderly.
According to the FTC, victims of cryptocurrency-related romance scams lost $547 million in 2021. According to experts, the pseudo-anonymity and untraceability of blockchain make it the perfect tool for con artists.
Fraudsters frequently imitate legitimate cryptocurrency trading platforms using bogus trading websites. Scammers also often use real-time values that look accurate when cross-checked. This is all a part of the elaborate effort to convince you to trust them with your money.
Romance scam red flags
Scammers will often shower the victim with devotion quickly, contact them several times a day, pretend to commit to a relationship sight unseen or even propose marriage.
They may promise to meet their victims but may cancel a visit because of an “emergency” or claim that they can’t visit due to job-related travel demands. Fraudsters will also typically make excuses for why they cannot video chat.
In other cases, the person a victim is chatting with may not even be a person at all — some dating scams use computer code script to generate messages.
The biggest warning sign of fraud is usually when someone you only know online needs money for an emergency.
Scammers put a lot of effort into creating a trustworthy online persona. They often claim to have an impressive job, education or provide edited images of their account portfolio.
Free money is never free
Scammers use emotional manipulation and the promise of money transfers to lure victims on social media sites such as Instagram. They may ask for personal information, such as payment details, under the guise of sending money, then typically ask for a small sum to “verify” the payment. To seem more credible, they may send a fake image of a pending payment.
It’s important to be cautious when sharing personal information online and to take steps to protect yourself from romance scams. Listed below are five tips to help prevent you from falling victim to these scams.
Tips to avoid romance scams
1. Take your time.
Be wary if someone professes their love for you quickly or pressures you to do something that makes you uncomfortable, particularly if you’ve never met in person.
2. Check their photos.
Fraudsters often entice their victims by sending attractive photos. Use reverse-image searches like Google Image Search, Microsoft Bing Visual Search, Getty Images and TinEye to reveal if your romantic interest’s photo is legitimate, or if it’s been lifted off of an unsuspecting person’s social media profile 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, especially if you haven't verified your love interests' identity. This includes sending or receiving any type of cryptocurrency. Never accept money online from people you don’t know — it always comes at a cost.
4. Don’t buy gift cards.
Fraudsters often ask their victims to reload prepaid debit 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’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and the FTC. Also notify the website or app where you met the scammer. Your reporting could help yourself and other potential victims from ending up heartbroken — and broke.
First Republic offers a range of cybersecurity services for our clients to proactively safeguard your accounts and improve your security. To schedule and learn more about these services, please contact your personal banker, Relationship Manager or Wealth Manager.
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