Valentine’s Day may have just passed, but romance scams are something that could hurt your heart and your wallet at any time of the year. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) just issued a warning that romance scam losses increased 80% in 2021 to $547 million, with the median consumer loss being $2,400.
During COVID, more and more people have taken to online dating sites and social media to meet other people. Unfortunately, while these platforms have made it easier than ever to meet new people and find dates, they have also made it easier to scam. Scammers create compelling stories and full-fledged identities, then trick you into falling in love with someone who doesn’t exist. This form of deception is known as “catfishing”. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has seen a growth in romance scams in recent years.
BBBs across North America received 276 reports of romance scams in 2021 and the numbers in early 2022 have already doubled those reported during the same period in 2021. Victims report that they bonded d friendship and were tricked into forming relationships with fraudsters whose sole purpose was to obtain money and/or credit card information from them.
With the pandemic still a part of our lives, BBB encourages those looking for love to beware of scammers. Don’t let your pursuit of love blind you to the realities of romance scams. Online dating sites are popular because many singles use technology to find a match. But behind many dating profiles are scammers ready to trick users into thinking they’ve found love.
If you see a family member or friend fall for what you think is a romance scam, now is the time to share these warnings. These scammers can disappear as quickly as they appeared.
How the scam works
Most romance scams start with fake profiles on online dating sites created by stealing photos and text from real accounts or elsewhere. Scammers often pretend to be in the military or work overseas to explain why they can’t meet you in person. Over a short period of time, the scammer builds a fake relationship with you, exchanging romantic photos and messages, even talking on the phone or via webcam.
Just when the relationship seems to be getting serious, your new lover has a health issue or family emergency, or wants to schedule a visit. Regardless of the story, the demand is the same: they need the money. But after sending money, there is another request, then another. Or the scammer completely stops communicating.
Tips for spotting this scam:
– Too good to be true. The scammers offer great photos and stories of financial success. Be honest with yourself about who would really be interested. If they seem “too perfect” to you, your alarm bells should be ringing.
– In a hurry to leave the site. Catfishers will very quickly try to get you to communicate via email, messaging or phone.
– Move quickly. A fisher-cat will start talking about a future together and tell you that he loves you quickly. They often say they have never felt this before.
– Talk about confidence. The Catfishers will start manipulating you by talking about trust and its importance. This will often be a first step to ask you for money.
– I don’t want to meet. Beware of someone who always has an excuse to postpone a meeting because they say they are traveling or living abroad or in the military.
– Suspicious language. If the person you’re communicating with claims to be from your hometown but has poor spelling or grammar, uses overly flowery language, or uses sentences that don’t make sense, that’s a red flag.
– Stories of bad luck. Before asking you for money, the scammer may allude to financial problems like a heating failure or a stolen car or a sick relative, or he may share a sad story from his past (death of parents or spouse , etc).
Protect yourself from this scam
Never send money or personal information that could be used for identity theft to someone you have never met in person. Never give someone your credit card information to book a ticket to visit you. Cut contact if someone starts asking you for information such as credit card, bank, or government ID numbers.
Ask specific questions about the details given in a profile. A scammer may stumble over memorizing details or the relevance of a story.
Do your research. Many scammers steal photos from the web to use in their profiles. You can perform a reverse image search using a website such as tineye.com or images.google.com to see if a profile’s photos are stolen from elsewhere. You can also search online for a profile name, email address, or phone number to see what adds up and what doesn’t.
BBB offers more advice on different types of romance scams at bbb.org/romance. To report a scam, please visit bbb.org/scamtracker.
Michele Mason is President of the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia