Spring brings with it warmer temperatures, longer daylight hours, and a general feeling of starting fresh. Unfortunately, that same sentiment can carry over into our personal lives and relationships, and scammers are all too happy to drop you a quick message to say hi.
There’s no such thing as a “good” scam or one that doesn’t leave the victim feeling horrible, but romance scams have to be at the top of the list for doing the most damage. Not only is the victim out their money, but the hope they felt and the feelings they thought were genuine are destroyed. So how can you avoid falling for a scam?
1. Who is this person? – No matter if the scammer’s persona is a man or a woman, it’s important to ask yourself how this person knows you and why they’re contacting you. Yes, as unlikely as it seems from the outside, people really do fall for this line: “I was browsing Facebook and saw your profile picture. You look like such a nice person, I just had to say hi!” WHY was this individual “browsing Facebook?” Are they seriously just scoping out different people’s profiles, hoping someone’s picture just grabs them?
No. They’re browsing Facebook looking for a victim. And they happened to settle on your picture. It wasn’t just your nice smile that roped them in, it was a lot of factors that made them throw out some bait in the form of a compliment.
2. Too much, too soon – Once the initial contact has been made and you start to chat with this person, it won’t take long before the sweet talk starts flowing. In fact, things can escalate at an alarming pace, a pace that you never would put up with if this was a face-to-face relationship. Declarations of love, of having never felt like this before, and more come pouring out fairly quickly…too quickly, if you stop and think about it.
3. Show me the money – Soon enough, the first request for money comes along. Oh, there’s always a good reason: car trouble that’s keeping him from getting to the airport to see you, the unexpected cost of the travel visa AFTER he’s already bought a plane ticket, a sick relative who needed medicine and he sent them the money he was going to spend on coming to see you, or some other heartstring-tugging excuse.
4. Speaking of money… – When we think of romance scams, we think of the poor victim being left heartbroken and penniless. We rarely think of the victim going to jail, but that happens too often to overlook it. Some romance scams dupe the victim into money laundering, which happens when the “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” wires money to the victim with instructions to send that money to someone else. There might be some plausible excuse given as to why the victim needs to follow through, but honestly, after the first transaction is made, the scammer might even let the cat out of the bag: you either keep doing this, or you’re going to jail for money laundering.
It’s important to note that it doesn’t only have to be money laundering. Some victims have been trapped in trafficking stolen goods, such as receiving shipments of items from their “loved one” and then sending them to someone else.
So how do you protect yourself from scammers who are very good at what they do? Be smart and be cautious, even more so than with a face-to-face relationship. If you wouldn’t put up with a behavior from someone you’re dating “in real life,” then don’t put up with it online. If you’re ever, EVER asked for money, no matter how logical the excuse, stop and think it through. Refuse to give anyone money, even if it’s a “loan,” and protect yourself from manipulative tactics.
If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.