There’s a very specific danger looming online right now, one that seeks to steal both its victims’ money and identifying information. Under the wrong circumstances, this particular threat can even land the victims in jail—romance scams.
What is a Romance Scam?
They prey on people who are lonely or feel unsuccessful at finding love. Victims of romance scams can come from every income level, educational background, gender, age, sexual identity and ethnicity. There’s no single target demographic for this crime because anyone can be tricked by a sweet talker who says exactly what they need to hear.
Unfortunately, with the commercialism of Valentine’s Day all around us, this is the time when scammers up their game. No one wants to be alone on the most romantic day of the year. It’s why it is the time when the bait is thrown out there and the nets are cast, hoping to snare a willing victim.
With that said, romance scams strike at all times of the year. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), people in the U.S. lost over $100 million to romance scams between January 1 and July 31 of 2021.
Different Types of Romance Scams
There are a few different ways that romance scams can manifest, including:
1. Out of towner needs money
One common approach is the social media message from a pleasant-looking person who is “intrigued” by your profile picture. You start talking and learn that this person is an offshore oil rig worker, deep-sea fisherman or even a deployed member of the military. The job is important, as it provides the excuse to be away from a computer and phone, away from their own funds for long periods of time. That way, it’s much more plausible when they need you to send money for some reason. Some reported excuses have included a new engine for the boat since the scammer claims to be stranded at sea and plane tickets home from another country when the scammer says his mother is in the hospital.
2. I want to come see you, but
Some reported romance scams have included victim stories about losing a lot of money because the other person was supposed to come to visit. When they supposedly arrived at the airport, their ticket was for the wrong flight, and they had to pay a fee. Then it was the need for a visa to enter the country. After that, it was more fees – and the game continued.
3. Money laundering romance scams
How do victims end up in criminal trouble for their part in all this? The scammer gets the victim to accept a deposit in their bank account, withdraw the money, and then turn around and wire that money to someone else. The victim is now complicit in stealing money from other victims and forwarding it to other bad guys. Just because they’re also a victim, that doesn’t erase their criminal role in the scam.
4. Crypto romance scams
Scammers trick the victims into thinking they’re investing in cryptocurrencies. They typically target victims on dating apps and other social media sites. Once the criminal gains the victim’s trust, they claim to know about cryptocurrency investment or trading opportunities that will result in substantial profits. The scammer directs the victim to a fraudulent website for an investment opportunity. Once they trick the victim into investing on the platform, they can withdraw a small amount of money to further gain the victim’s trust.
The FBI says after a successful withdrawal, the scammer tells the victim to invest larger amounts of money. When the victim is ready to withdraw more funds, the scammers create reasons why it cannot happen, enticing the victim to provide additional funds. Sometimes a customer service group gets involved, which is also part of the scam. When victims can no longer withdraw any money, scammers typically stop communicating.
What You Can Do to Stay Safe
The internet is filled with authentic opportunities to meet someone special. However, it’s also a breeding ground for scammers. By using reputable dating sites, you might avoid a lot of heartaches. However, the companies who run the sites cannot vet every single profile or message for authenticity. At the same time, social media has made it all too easy for criminals to contact victims with sincere-sounding promises in hopes they will fall for a romance scam.
It’s vital to adopt an air of caution about anyone you meet online to safeguard your heart and your money. A good rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t fall for it in person, don’t fall for it online. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Anyone who declares undying love too early in the relationship or asks for over-the-top favors too soon should not be trusted. If the person’s background story is a little too shady or falls into the stereotype of the romance scammer, be careful. Most of all, keep your personal information and your money close, and don’t be quick to share either one. Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on our website www.idtheftcenter.org.
The post was originally published on 2/11/18 and was updated on 9/28/21