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Romance Scams: The Price Some Will Pay for Love

Stephanie Wood | Manager

Online dating continues to be a popular method used to meet potential partners. If you type “dating website” in Google, a myriad of links pop up, and Google gives you a listing of the Top 20 dating sites. With all of these options available, it becomes an easy target for scammers looking to take advantage of someone. What better way to get into someone’s wallet than through their heart?

The Online Dating World

According to statisticbrain.com, approximately 49.6 million people in the United States have tried online dating websites. As of January 1, 2018, popular dating websites, such as eHarmony.com and Match.com reported 17.5 million and 24.5 million members, respectively. The Better Business Bureau (“BBB”) just recently conducted a study to learn more about the inner workings of online romance scams. Their report was published in February 2018, revealing some astonishing figures. According to their report, losses of nearly $1 billion in the United States and Canada were reported over the last three years. The report also noted that the FBI’s Internet Fraud Complaint Center estimates that romance fraud causes the greatest dollar loss of any fraud scam affecting individuals, with the exception of investment frauds.

How is it done?

According to the BBB’s report, it is estimated that at any one time there may be 25,000 fraudsters online with victims. A company that screens profiles for dating companies says that 500,000 of the 3.5 million profiles it scans every month are bogus.

Scammers looking for their next victim on dating websites create fake profiles to build online relationships, eventually convincing people to send them money. An article that was recently in the news told the story of a North Carolina woman who met a man on the dating website “Plenty of Fish”. The man stated that he lived in Charlotte, but was in Germany on business. After several months of building trust with the victim through text messages, phone calls, and pictures, the scammer eventually asked the woman for money, stating that his accounts were frozen. The woman sent him over $50,000. The man promised to pay her back, even asking her to pick him up from the airport, sending her actual flight information. After a long wait at the airport to pick him up, she realized what had happened. Other examples involve perpetrators impersonating soldiers, asking for money to purchase leave papers from the Army, pay medical expenses from combat wounds, or to get home from war. The scams are usually sophisticated and involve more than one person to corroborate the fake stories being told.

How to Protect Yourself

When it comes to finding love online, you must be aware of some of the dangers you could encounter. Using information published by the Federal Trade Commission, the following list highlights how to recognize a scam artist online:

  • If a person wants to leave the dating website immediately and use personal email or instant messenger. Don’t immediately trust that someone online is who they say they are. Use the dating website to communicate with your potential sweetheart until you have met in person and feel comfortable with giving any personal information away.
  • If a person claims love in a heartbeat. Despite the fact that many people believe in love at first sight, someone claiming love instantly upon connecting with you online is most likely a scam.
  • Someone claims to live in the United States, but is traveling or working overseas. Suggest meeting an online suitor in person. If they continue to use the excuse that they are working or traveling overseas, most likely it is a scam.
  • If a person plans to visit, but is prevented by a traumatic event or business deal gone sour. Be suspicious if they can’t visit due to a traumatic event or bad business deal. Especially if a request for money follows the incident.
  • Never wire money to cover the following types of expenses:
    • Travel
    • Medical emergencies
    • Hotel bills
    • Hospital bills for a child or other relative
    • Visas or other official documents
    • Losses from temporary financial setback
  • Be aware of someone asking for money after a mugging or robbery. Someone you meet online should not be asking you for money to get back home or get them out of trouble. Most likely this is a scam, and will result in more requests and more money.

In addition to the tips above, the BBB’s report shared some tools that could help individuals determine whether or not they are dealing with a scammer:

  • Scamsurvivors.com has an online quiz that you can take to determine whether you are involved in a scam.
  • Tineye.com is a search engine where users upload a photograph and the website finds if the image appears online anywhere else. Most profiles created by scammers will have a profile picture to make it look more legitimate. Users can go to Tineye to search to see if the photo appears anywhere else. Many times scammers will use a stock photo, or something retrieved elsewhere on the Internet. Google chrome also allows users to right click on a photo and search for it.
  • If the person claims to be working for a business overseas, call the U.S. Embassy in the appropriate country and they will verify if this business is real and provide some background on the company.

How to Report

If you or someone you know has been scammed, or suspect that someone is trying to scam you, you can report it to one or all of the following:

  • The dating website
  • The Federal Trade Commission
  • The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center
  • Your State Attorney General

Most reputable online dating websites have safeguards in place to identify questionable profiles and eliminate attempted fraudulent activity. However, if you come across a suspicious profile, it is important to report it immediately.

Remain Vigilant

Although the online dating world has allowed many individuals the opportunity to find love, there is still risk involved. Many people sign up with the intention of finding love and in doing so become vulnerable to those on the other side of the computer. Be aware of the red flags and know when to say no. Don’t just follow your heart on this one.

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