Several months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a webinar put on by the National Cybersecurity Alliance. The topic was general cybersecurity practices for businesses. Periodically they send me information on other cybersecurity topics. Recently, they sent an email titled "How to Avoid Online Romance Scams." With Valentine's Day approaching, I thought this would be an excellent time to take a deeper dive into this topic.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2019, online romance scams were the costliest category of any scam reported, with losses totaling over $200 million and the median individual loss being $10,000. And that's just the losses that were reported. We don’t have the 2020 numbers yet but I suspect the increased isolation brought on by the Pandemic has increased the number of victims and losses.
Many people find love online. Dating applications are some of the most frequently downloaded from app stores. Most people on online dating sites are good people sincerely looking for companionship. Just as we are aware when traveling that there are pickpockets, you should also be mindful that some people online are con-artists intent on stealing your money by pulling on your heartstrings.
Anyone, at any age, can be the victim of a romance scam; however, the most common demographic is divorced or widowed women over the age of 40. Scammers are predominantly men, and women over the age of 40 tend to have more wealth than their younger counterparts.
In a recent news report David McClellan, CEO of socialcatfish.com, said they interviewed a Nigerian scammer who revealed that about 1 in 10 people would give him some amount of money. Here are some of the red flags that someone you've met online may be a scammer.
They will not meet in person. They make plans to meet but repeatedly cancel. Even if they're not a scammer, don't invest yourself in people that don't value your time.
There is a fantastic story or drama that creates an emergency that leads to an urgent need for money. They may claim to need money to travel home or pay for medical expenses for themselves or a family member. Even if they're not a scammer, don't get involved with someone who has more problems than you do.
Scammers often claim to be a Doctor working for an international organization, work on an oil rig or be in the military.
The US Army receives hundreds of complaints per month from victims of online scams perpetrated by people claiming to be soldiers. These people will often claim financial hardship due to a lack of support from the military. This is a common ploy by con-artists to leverage a person's guilt in persuading someone to send money.
The person sends you a picture of someone who looks like a supermodel. Unless you typically date supermodels, this should be a red flag.
They quickly declare their love for you. People don't typically fall in love with someone they've never met. Even if they're not a scammer, this could sign some mental or emotional issues.
He or she doesn't use good grammar or punctuation. Most scammers are not located in the United States, and English is not their primary language.
A scammer's social media accounts may have few photos with posting dates that are close together. They may have few followers and few comments on their posts.
What are some things you can do to protect yourself if you suspect you’re communicating with a romance scammer?
Stop communicating with the romance scammer.
Copy and paste the emails and text messages into a search engine. There are websites that collect these message templates. You may find the same message has been sent to thousands of others.
Do not send money to anyone you don’t know. If you wouldn’t loan someone your car you shouldn’t give them money.
Don’t send pictures to a stranger that aren’t already on your social media profile. Scammers have been known to blackmail people after asking for revealing photos.
Trust yourself. Trust your gut. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel comfortable there may be good reason.
If you have been a victim of a romance scam, say something. If you gave someone your bank or credit card information, contact the card issuer immediately. File a complaint with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center https://www.ic3.gov File a fraud report with the Federal Trade Commission https://ftc.gov/cmoplaint Social Media platforms have methods to report imposters profiles. Facebook – On the persons profiles there is a three-dot menu. Go to the Find Support or Report Profile option and report the profile.
Instagram - https://help.instagram.com/contact/636276399721841 Amazon Gift Card - If you gave someone the number from an Amazon Gift Card, keep the card itself and your receipt and call 888-280-4331 or go to: https://www.amazon.com/giftcardscams/b?ie=UTF8&node=15435487011 Ebay Gift Card - If you gave someone the number from an Ebay Gift Card, keep the card itself and your receipt and call 866-305-3229 or go to: https://www.ebay.com/help/buying/paying-items/ebay-gift-cards?id=4640#section4 Google Play - If you gave someone the number from a Google Play Gift Card, keep the card itself and your receipt and call 855-466-4438 or go to: https://support.google.com/googleplay/answer/9057338?hl=en&ref_topic=9057343 iTunes - If you gave someone the number from an iTunes Gift Card, keep the card itself and your receipt and call 800-275-2273 or go to: https://support.apple.com/itunes-gift-card-scams