Painted hearts on restaurant doors, red roses in hand, candies and chocolates on display. These are just some of the signs that the month of love is coming upon us again. As February approaches, many are excited for what it promises; romance. Among hopefuls searching for a true connection though, are those who take advantage of our need for human interaction, namely scammers. Millions each year use dating apps to meet new people. Unfortunately, malicious parties exist who leverage our innate need for human connection to their advantage, leaving many disappointed and with less money in their wallets than before. We call what these criminals do “romance scams.” What exactly are romance scams? How can we identify and avoid them? Let’s find out.

Romance Scams

Leveraging Affection and Trust

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) states that “romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust.” The malicious actor then uses the victim’s affection and trust to steal money from them. Many times, the victim isn’t even aware that this is happening. For example, imagine you have been talking online to someone for months. At this point you feel like you know them. Then they tell you their sister was in a horrible accident and needs help with her medical bills. You kindly offer to assist and send them some money for their sister. No doubt this was a kind and loving act on your part, but this person has just successfully obtained money from you for whatever purpose they desire. This is not to say that all online interactions go this way or are malicious. So, what are the telltale signs of romance scams in particular? And how can you avoid them?’
Romance Scams

Things to Watch Out For

Scammers will not meet you in person. They will come up with many reasons for this. Perhaps they are in the army, traveling overseas, or working with an international organization. Go slowly and keep in mind that if you have not met someone in person, you have reason to be wary.

They will ask you for money. Beware of anyone you haven’t met in person asking you for money. They could request finances for things like:

  • Plane tickets to visit you
  • Family or personal emergencies
  • Gambling debts
  • Medical expenses

The timeline for these requests could be days, months, or even years. If it’s a scam, though, the request will come.

They ask for specific payment methods. Some common and hard to track methods of payment include:

  • Wire transfers
  • Gift cards

If your online interest asks for money, especially using difficult to trace methods such as the two above, take this as a sign of a scam and do not send anything to them.

How to Protect Yourself from Romance Scams

Now that you know some of the signs of romance scams, here are some tips from the FBI to protect yourself from them in the future:

    • Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
    • Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
    • Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
    • Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
    • Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
    • Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
    • Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.

Stay Safe

This February and all the months to follow, keep your eyes peeled for the signs of a scam we have discussed today. By doing that and following the FBI’s tips to protect yourself from these romance scams, you will be sure to keep your heart, and your wallet, safe.

Shelby Dacko

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