As Valentine’s Day approaches, you may find yourself turning to online dating sites to help you find that special someone. Online romance scams are a very real way that consumers find themselves defrauded over the internet, but it can also be prevented.
How do these scams work? Scammers will make fake profiles on dating sites or social media platforms, often using pictures of real people or posing as service members. Over the course of weeks, months, or even years, they develop what the victim believes to be a real relationship. They may start out by asking for small sums of money, and once they think the victim is attached, they will claim to have an emergency or situation for which they urgently need a large amount of money.
Between 2015-2017, the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center reported a combined $884 million in losses to online romance scams in the United States. Dozens of romance scams were reported in Texas alone in 2018, several of which had financial losses of tens of thousands of dollars. The main commonalities found among victims regardless of age or gender, is that they have strong beliefs in a soul mate and true love.
There are many ways in which an online romance scam can become extremely complicated. Often times, fraudsters will engineer complex situations and confusing ways in which you need to deliver them money. They may even have fake government forms to make themselves seem more legitimate. Some victims even find themselves scammed again after they discover the initial con. The scammer will admit what they were doing but say that they fell in love during the process and use that as a tool to start the con over again.
There are ways to safely enjoy online dating sites and keep yourself safe from these scams. Better Business Bureau recommends the following:
•Check their photographs. Typically, if an image is used in a scam, you can search the image and may find that it is connected to other names or places. However, there are ways for scammers to work around this, so be cautious.
•Search the text. Many scammers are dealing with multiple victims at a time, so they will likely stick to a script. Search any unusual or suspicious phrases in a profile or email. You may get results from others who have been contacted in romance scams.
•Use the State Department to transfer emergency funds. These con artists often pretend to be U.S. citizens working overseas or members of the armed services. The State Department recommends sending money through their OCS Trust, which requires recipients to provide a photo ID to collect money.
•Check to see if there is a real business overseas. If the fraudster claims to own or work for an overseas business, you can always call the U.S. Embassy in that country and ask them to verify the company and provide background for you.
•Stay off a site where you’ve been defrauded. Romance scammers often sell lists of their victims to other scammers, so once you’ve been victim in an online romance scam, you may be more vulnerable to them in the future.
•Don’t send money to someone you haven’t met in person. While this may seem like common sense, most romance scams revolve around elaborate stories that explain why they won’t be able to meet you for quite a while. However, if someone you haven’t met in person starts asking for money, it is most likely a romance scam.
BBB also encourages victims to report their experiences to help alert others. Victims should file complaints and report crimes to their local police departments, IC3.gov, FTC.gov and BBB.org/scamtracker.
To learn more about online romance scams, visit bbb.org.