Laura Dosch, VP, Private Banking
February is the month of love – but online, it can be hard to tell if someone is after your heart or your wallet.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 2021 was a record year for “romance scams” with $547 million in reported losses for the year – that’s an increase of nearly 80% compared to the year before.
Online dating apps and websites are only getting more popular, so how can you protect your accounts from fraudsters? What should you do if you believe you’ve fallen victim to a “sweetheart scam?”
What is a Romance Scam?
The FBI describes a romance scam as when a criminal takes on a fake online persona to gain a victim’s trust. The scammer uses this identity to create the illusion of a romantic or otherwise close relationship with the victim, so they can manipulate them into handing over their money.
Online dating leaves a lot up to mystery, which can be exciting to some but can also be a warning sign that you’re not getting the whole truth. Think twice before you share your information.
The goal of the scammer is to establish this “relationship” as quickly as they can. They often claim they want to marry the victim, or will make plans to meet face-to-face, including in some cases at the expense of the victim, with no intention of following through. However, they will eventually begin to ask for financial help.
Signs of a Romance Scam
Romance scammers are tricky. They can seem genuine and are masters at creating a believable identity. They’ll find pictures of people online and swipe them for their own profile. In fact, sometimes they take on the identities of real people.
Scam artists also know how to do their research. They may search your social media profiles for small bits of information they can use to pretend to have common goals or interests.
However, almost all romance scammers use the same three lies:
- They can’t meet you face-to-face. According to the FBI,a popular excuse scammers use is that they work in construction and are tied up in projects outside of the country.
- They will say they need money. Once a relationship is established, they will begin to ask for funds for things like a medical emergency or to help them get out of trouble. They also offer to help you get started investing in cryptocurrency.
- They will tell you a specific way you need to pay them. Scammers act with urgency and want your money quickly. They also want it provided in a way that makes it more difficult for you to get back. They may tell you to wire funds through companies like MoneyGram or to put it on a gift card.
How to Protect Yourself and Loved Ones
The most important thing you can do is to stay informed. It may be uncomfortable to talk about, but make sure you, your family, and your friends are familiar with the tactics of a romance scammer. The more you know, the better prepared you will be.
The Department of Homeland Security has several tips to ensure you and your loved ones are protected:
- Check in on older family members. Often, romance scammers will target vulnerable people who live alone or who may be grieving the death of a spouse.
- Limit the information you share on social media. Scammers will check your profile for details they can use to better target you.
- Do your own research. Look at the person’s profile and photo and use a search engine to see if their picture, their name, or other information they have provided has been used somewhere else.
- Don’t rush, and ask a lot of questions. Scammers will often try to get you to move quickly. Don’t let them rush you to leave a dating site for direct communication.
- Trust your gut. If the person seems like they could be too good to be true, talk to a trusted friend or family member.
- Protect your personal information. Scammers may ask for private financial information or for inappropriate photos. However, this information could be used later to extort you.
- Be cautious if you haven’t met in-person. If they keep promising to meet you face-to-face, but always seem to have an excuse to cancel, it should raise a red flag.
- Don’t send them money. Never send funds to someone you have only communicated with on the phone or online.
What to do if You Think You’ve Been Scammed
If you believe you’ve fallen victim to a romance scam, first, stop all communication with the individual immediately. Talk to a trusted friend and tell them what’s been going on.
If you have fallen victim to an online dating scam, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Romance fraud is often under-reported since victims can be too embarrassed to tell people once they realize they’ve been fooled.
Then, report the incident to your local law enforcement and submit a fraud complaint with the FTC. Even if you think it’s too late to recover any losses, details about the incident could help others from falling victim.
Additionally, you can report suspicious criminal activity, including romance scams 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling the Department of Homeland Security at 1-866-347-2423.
About the Author
Laura Dosch is a Vice President of Private Banking at Waterford Bank, N.A. in Toledo, Ohio. With a deep commitment to her customers and communities, she is a champion for building banking relationships customers can rely on.
In her time at Waterford, Laura founded the Women of Waterford or Wow Foundation to empower women through education, community service, and professional enrichment. She also serves as the current Foundation Chair and past President of the Sylvania Rotary. Want to connect? Contact us here.