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As people spend less time face-to-face, and more time in the the digital space due to Covid and changes in lifestyles and technology, persons of all ages are increasingly pursuing love online. While social media platforms such as Tinder, Match, Hinge, and a host of others, are popular and convenient, they are also fertile pastures for scammers seeking to exploit the emotional vulnerability of others for fraudulent financial gain.
By posing as legitimate individuals in search of love, romance, and relationships, criminals conspire to develop trust and intimacy between themselves and their targets with the ultimate goal of relieving them of their hard earned cash, as well as obtaining personal information such as social security numbers, credit card information, and other forms of private data.
In fact, in 2020 the FTC’s Sentinel Data Base revealed that people have lost more money to romance scams than any other form of fraud out there, to the tune of $304 million dollars. Likely due to Covid, reported scams and losses increased by a whopping 50% from 2019 to 2020.
Scammers typically create attractive online profiles to draw their victims in, frequently copying photos from the internet and fabricating names and backgrounds. Some scammers even assume the identities of real people they find online so they’ll appear more legitimate.
Upon establishing contact with a potential mark, the scammer will devise reasons why they are not able to meet up in person—the pandemic has made this aspect all too easy with excuses ranging from the inability to travel due to Covid restrictions, Covid test results, etc.—the possibilities are endless.
While many victims lost money after being lured in through dating apps, many others report being targeted on social media whereby the individual receives a friend request or message. Eventually, though, the dialogue will involve money. Some scammers claim to need money for medical emergencies or even phone cards to enable them to maintain communication.
Some of the largest dollar amounts, however, are based on the victim believing that they are actually receiving money from their new “friend.” After obtaining illicit funds via deception or theft, the scammer concocts a fictitious reason for needing to transfer money to their new friend temporarily. In reality, criminals commonly employ this method to launder illegal money, and create layers of separation between themselves and their ill begotten gains.
People who cooperate with scammers in this manner are known as “Money Mules,” and make it difficult for law enforcement to track down the perpetrators. To the dismay of individuals functioning as money mules—whether unwittingly, or not—this type of activity is a punishable crime that may end in prosecution and incarceration relating to mail fraud, money laundering, identity theft, bank fraud, and wire fraud.
For more information visit this FBI site:
- Money Mules — FBI
A money mule is someone who transfers or moves illegally acquired money on behalf of someone else. Some money mules know they are supporting criminal enterprises; others are unaware that they are helping criminals profit. Don't be a mule.
Now that I have you understandably alarmed about the dangers of romance scammers, don’t despair. Dating apps and social media platforms are still viable resources for finding love in our digital age. By remaining mindful of the situations listed below, you will greatly reduce your chances of falling prey to a romance scam.
David McClellan of Social Catfish, a background check firm, has seen his business skyrocket during the pandemic as droves of people turn to the internet for a romantic connection. He cites the techniques listed below as commonly used in the romance scam game.
- Posing as Military. Scammers will pose as military personnel stationed overseas who claim some type of financial hardship after establishing an online relationship. The scammer will then request that money be sent to assist with the situation.
- Online Gaming. Criminals connect with individuals via online games. After establishing a rapport with their intended victim, they suggest moving the conversation to a private chat room in order to deepen the romantic bond.
- Targeting Insecurities. Romance scammers hone in on one's insecurities. Scammers are increasingly combing for victims among individuals who, for instance, use “beauty enhancement” photo filters.
- Money Laundering. As detailed above, scammers will ask you to forward money to another individual as a favor.
- Small Amounts. Scammers will typically start out by requesting a small amount of money, i.e. $20 to $200 dollars. As time passes, the amounts requested increase.
If you suspect you may have been involved with a scammer, or simply desire peace of mind in proceeding with someone who’s caught your fancy online, resources exist to help safeguard you from falling victim to romance scams.
For a nominal fee, background check firms such as BeenVerified, Social Catfish (mentioned above), and TruthFinder can access databases for public records, employment histories, and addresses. Certain of these services provide clients with tools to perform reverse image searches in which customers can upload photos to verify their authenticity. Social Catfish in particular (socialcatfish.com), specializes in romance scams and will even research and provide reports on suspicious individuals.
The next time you’re online searching for your perfect love match, be wary of people who seem “too-good-to-be-true,” and who, at any point, seek to involve you in financial matters, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant.
If you are victimized by scammers, you can report them using the links below. In addition, should your bank accounts be involved, notify your local bank as soon as possible.
Federal Trade Commission
Protect your community by reporting fraud, scams, and bad business practices
Federal Bureau of Investigation
dashingscorpio from Chicago on July 04, 2021:
Probably the best two things one can do avoid online dating scams:
1. Avoid long distance dating opportunities.
2. Never give money to anyone you meet online.
You're being "love bombed" almost immediately by someone giving you "pet names", telling you how much they miss you, or professing their love even though they've never met you in person.
Claim they're unable to video chat.
Always have an excuse for not meeting in person.
Asking for exclusivity or making marriage proposals within a few weeks.
Telling you about their financial hardships without directly asking for your help. AKA "dry begging" to elicit your sympathy to get you to volunteer to help them out.
Asking you for a "loan" while telling you they're expecting an influx of cash.