‘Don’t Be a Victim’ Series: Dating Scams aka Romance Scams Led to $143 Million in Stolen Money
Simona Blanda was looking online for Mr. Right, but instead, she wound up with both a broken heart and a broken bank account.
Blanda was a victim of a so-called romance scam, which last year duped victims out of $143 million nationwide, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In Blanda’s case, she ended up $25,000 in debt.
Blanda thought she found her perfect match on a dating website that connects people to members of the Military. “I thought, ‘Well, Military. They’re secure. They can offer you security. They’re, you know, down to earth guys,'” Blanda said.
Soon, the supposed overseas soldier’s gifts and words wooed her, and their conversations moved from the dating site to messaging apps. That’s when he started asking for money for all types of things, including funds to get back into the U.S.
Blanda, head over heels, ended up in the financial hole before realizing she was getting scammed.
Rob D’Ovidio, a cybercrime professor at Drexel University, said there are a few ways you can keep yourself from falling for a romance scam:
Never send money to someone.
Scrutinize your match’s profile.
Be leery if your match doesn’t want to meet you in the physical world.
Use reverse image search tools to check if the picture of the person you’re communicating with is being used under different names. Google’s reverse image search function could help.
Scammers take advantage of people looking for romantic partners, often via dating websites, apps or social media by pretending to be prospective companions. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details.
How Dating Scams work
Dating and romance scams often take place through online dating websites, but scammers may also use social media or email to make contact. They have even been known to telephone their victims as a first introduction. These scams are also known as ‘catfishing’.
Scammers typically create fake online profiles designed to lure you in. They may use a fictional name, or falsely take on the identities of real, trusted people such as military personnel, aid workers or professionals working abroad.
Dating and romance scammers will express strong emotions for you in a relatively short period of time and will suggest you move the relationship away from the website to a more private channel, such as phone, email or instant messaging. They often claim to be from Australia or another western country, but traveling or working overseas.
Scammers will go to great lengths to gain your interest and trust, such as showering you with loving words, sharing ‘personal information’ and even sending you gifts. They may take months to build what may feel like the romance of a lifetime and may even pretend to book flights to visit you, but never actually come.
Once they have gained your trust and your defenses are down, they will ask you (either subtly or directly) for money, gifts or your banking/credit card details. They may also ask you to send pictures or videos of yourself, possibly of an intimate nature.
Often the scammer will pretend to need the money for some sort of personal emergency. For example, they may claim to have a severely ill family member who requires immediate medical attention such as an expensive operation, or they may claim financial hardship due to an unfortunate run of bad luck such as a failed business or mugging in the street. The scammer may also claim they want to travel to visit you, but cannot afford it unless you are able to lend them money to cover flights or other travel expenses.
Sometimes the scammer will send you valuable items such as laptop computers and mobile phones and ask you to resend them somewhere. They will invent some reason why they need you to send the goods but this is just a way for them to cover up their criminal activity. Alternatively, they may ask you to buy the goods yourself and send them somewhere. You might even be asked to accept money into your bank account and then transfer it to someone else.
Warning – the above scenarios are very likely to be forms of money laundering which is a criminal offense. Never agree to transfer money for someone else.
Sometimes the scammer will tell you about a large amount of money or gold they need to transfer out of their country and offer you a share of it. They will tell you they need your money to cover administrative fees or taxes.
Dating and romance scammers can also pose a risk to your personal safety as they are often part of international criminal networks. Scammers may attempt to lure their victims overseas, putting you in dangerous situations that can have tragic consequences.
Regardless of how you are scammed, you could end up losing a lot of money. Online dating and romance scams cheat Australians out of millions every year. The money you send to scammers is almost always impossible to recover and, in addition, you may feel long-lasting emotional betrayal at the hands of someone you thought loved you.
You meet someone online and after just a few contacts they profess strong feelings for you and ask to chat with you privately. If you met on a dating site they will try and move you away from the site and communicate via chat or email.
Their profile on the internet dating website or their Facebook page is not consistent with what they tell you. For example, their profile picture looks different to their description of themselves, or they say they are university educated but their English is poor.
After gaining your trust – often waiting weeks, months or even years – they tell you an elaborate story and ask for money, gifts or your bank account/credit card details.
Their messages are often poorly written, vague and escalate quickly from introduction to love.
If you don’t send money straight away, their messages and calls become more desperate, persistent or direct. If you do send money, they continue to ask you to send more.
They don’t keep their promises and always have an excuse for why they can’t travel to meet you and why they always need more money.
Protect yourself against dating scams
Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
Always consider the possibility that the approach may be a scam, particularly if the warning signs listed above appear. Try to remove the emotion from your decision making no matter how caring or persistent the ‘prospective partner’ is.
Do an image search of your admirer to help determine if they really are who they say they are. You can use image search services such as Google or TinEye.
Be alert to things like spelling and grammar mistakes, inconsistencies in their stories and others signs that it’s a scam like their camera never working if you want to Skype with each other.
Be cautious when sharing personal pictures or videos with prospective partners, especially if you’ve never met them before. Scammers are known to blackmail their targets using compromising material.
If you agree to meet a prospective partner in person, tell family and friends where you are going. Scamwatch strongly recommends you do not travel overseas to meet someone you have never met before. Consider carefully the advice on www.smarttraveller.gov.au before making any plans.
Be wary of requests for money. Never send money or give credit card details, online account details, or copies of important personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust.
Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
Do not agree to transfer money for someone else: money laundering is a criminal offense.
Be very careful about how much personal information you share on social network sites. Scammers can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity or to target you with a scam.
Have you been a victim of dating scams?
If you think you have been scammed, report it to the website, app, or social media site where the scammer first approached you. Let them know the scammer’s profile name and any other details that may help them to stop others from being scammed.
If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.
by Lisa Weintraub Schifferle Attorney,
FTC, Division of Consumer & Business Education<
It’s Valentine’s Day and love is in the air. You may think you spend a lot on flowers or chocolate, but losing money in a romance scam would cost you even more. Last year, people reported losing $143 million to romance scams – a higher total than for any other type of scam reported to the FTC. And, according to a new FTC Data Spotlight, reports of romance scams are on the rise.
What do we mean by romance scams? We’re not talking about the person you thought was “the one” but ended up being a dud. We’re talking about people you meet online, who lavish you with attention … and then ask for money. Usually, they want the money by wire transfer or gift card. They might claim they need it for a medical emergency or to come to visit you. Then they take your money, but there’s no surgery and no trip.
Romance scammers are hard at work wooing people on dating apps and social media. They may lift photos to create an attractive profile or even steal the identity of a real person. Just like with real romances, it may take them some time to gain your trust, but the scammer’s payoff can be big. Last year, people reported a median loss of $2,600 from dating scams Romance scams.
How can you avoid Dating Scams Romance?
Never send money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven’t met in person.
Take it slowly. Ask questions and look for inconsistent answers. Check the person’s photo using your search engine’s “search by image” feature. If the same picture shows up with a different name, that’s a red flag.
Talk to someone about this new love interest. And pay attention if your friends or family are concerned.
If you suspect a dating scam or romance scam, cut off contact right away. Then, report to the scam to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. Notify the dating site where you met the scammer, too.
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