As Valentine’s Day approaches, love is in the air – and so are romance scams. More people are looking for their special someone online by joining dating apps like Bumble and Hinge as well as social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram. While this can be a wonderful way to meet people, many individuals find a scammer instead – who is looking to take advantage of lonely hearts by stealing their money, identity and personal information. According to the Federal Trade Commission, reports of these online scams have nearly tripled in the past few years. It’s important to be cautious and remember, not everyone is looking for love. Here’s what you need to know about romance scams to protect your heart…and your finances.
What is a Romance Scam?
A romance scam is when a person is tricked into believing they’re in a romantic relationship with someone they met online – who is not who they say they are.
- Scammers create fake profiles to take advantage of victims online.
- They begin the conversation with sharing the basics: what type of work they do, where they live, favorite hobbies and interests. This helps to build the relationship and establish trust.
- If this goes well, the fake suitor may ask you to leave the dating site and start communicating via email, phone and instant messaging.
- Scammers create a sophisticated, but fraudulent and fictitious web of their identity, success, wealth, trustworthiness, desire to be in a long-term relationship, and even opportunities to start a business together.
- They will ask you for money with a sense of urgency and persistence.
Warning Signs to Look Out For
- Your new romantic interest sends a picture that doesn’t look realistic. Rather, they look more like a model from a fashion magazine with heavy editing.
- The relationship is moving fast and the scammer quickly professes their love for you. They want to act fast before their target catches on to their antics.
- Phony suitors lavish you with attention and repeatedly promise to meet you in person, but always have an excuse to cancel. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- He or she attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used against you.
- They ask you for money and require specific payment methods. They want you to send it via wire transfer or a preloaded gift card or cash.
- Making up stories that sound believable, their request will have a sense of urgency and they will be persistent. They say the money is for things such as:
- Hospital bills
- A plane ticket or other travel expenses
- Pay off debts
Do’s & Don’ts of Online Dating
- Take it slowly. Ask your potential partner a lot of questions and watch for inconsistencies that might reveal an impostor.
- Check the scammer’s profile and photo. Use the “search by image” feature on Google to see if the image, name or details show up elsewhere.
- Be wary of flirtatious and overly complimentary messages. Paste the text into a search engine and see whether the same words show up on websites devoted to exposing romance scammers.
- Cut off contact immediately if you begin to suspect that the individual may be a scammer.
- Notify the dating site or app on which you met the scammer.
- Don’t ever send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone. Don’t feel a false sense of safety because you’re the one who made contact first. Scammers flood dating websites with fake profiles and wait for victims to reach out to them.
- Don’t reveal too much personal information in a dating profile or to someone you’ve chatted with only online. Scammers can exploit details like your last name or where you work to manipulate you or to commit identity theft.
- Don’t ever send an online acquaintance an intimate photo that could later be used for extortion.
What You Should Do if You Suspect A Romance Scam:
- Stop all communication immediately!
- Talk to someone you trust and pay attention if your friends or family say they’re concerned about your new love interest.
- Do a search for the type of job the person has to see if other people have heard similar stories. For example, you could do a search for “oil rig scammer” or “US Army scammer.”
How to Report a Romance Scam:
- If you paid a romance scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away. Explain the gift card you paid for was given to a scammer and ask if it can be refunded.
- Notify your bank if your personal information was compromised.
- Change passwords on all your email, social, online dating and financial accounts.
- File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
- Report the scam to the FTC.
Falling in love can be great, but before you let someone steal your heart, keep these romance scam warning signs in mind. For more tips to help protect your personal information, check out our other blogs on Privacy & Cybersecurity and visit the Lakeland Bank identity theft information center. If you believe your personal information has been compromised or you think you are a victim of identity theft, we’re here to help! Contact us at 866-224-1379.