Red roses or red flags? Watch out for romance scams

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Almost one-third of Americans have used an online dating site or app, and that percentage climbs with younger people, with over half of those under 30 using these services. It’s great that technology gives us tools to connect with people and even find love, but that technology also makes it easy for scammers to take advantage.

Romance scams are big business; in 2022, Americans lost over $1.3 billion to romance scams. Those who fall victim may end up unwittingly serving as “money mules” helping launder illegal funds, or they may end up losing their own money trying to “help” an online sweetheart, or invest in the “great deal” their new love interest tells them about.

How does a romance scam unfold?

Essentially, a scammer creates a fake online profile, strikes up a flirtation or conversation online, pretends to be interested in the victim, and after fostering a relationship, eventually asks for money. They may claim to be hurt or sick, or have a relative in trouble, and they just need some money to help. The bad actor may study the information a victim shares online in order to be able to fake shared interests. And the information they share about themselves contains some reason why they can’t meet in person – they may claim to be stationed overseas or on a ship.

Different twists to romance scams may include things like asking for private information or photos (which can then be used to blackmail the victim). Or the scammer may offer to do the victim a “favor” by helping them invest in cryptocurrency, or sending a valuable package for which they just need payment for customs fees.

Watch out for red flags

Some of the common tactics romance scammers use are:

  • Asking for money for something urgent
  • Requesting you wire funds, send gift cards, or send payment using cryptocurrency
  • Claiming to live far away so they aren’t able to see you in person
  • Using fake profile photos – you can do a reverse image search on photos, and if the details don’t match up, it’s a scam for sure
  • Wanting to move the conversation from a dating app to another messaging platform like WhatsApp (which may be harder to trace)

How to break up with a scammer

If you suspect you (or someone you love) are being taken advantage of by a romance scammer, take action right away.

  • Stop communicating with the scammer immediately
  • If you have any identifiable information, such as an email or phone number, write it down, and take screenshots of any information you have
  • If you’ve sent money, or shared login information about your bank or credit card, contact the bank or credit card company
  • File a report with your local police department and report the scam to the FTC and FBI
  • Alert the website, platform, or app where you met the scammer – they might be able to help investigators by providing more information on the scammer

Love may be blind – you shouldn’t be

Protect your heart – and your bank account. Be careful what you share online, and watch out for the warning signs that your online love may not have your best interests at heart.

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