With COVID-19 forcing more singles to meet and date online, America’s most expensive scam is on the rise. Romance scams are all over the internet and can be difficult to spot While the data for 2020 is not yet available, according to the FTC, Americans lost a collective $201 million to romance scams in 2019.
Don’t be the next victim of a romance scam! Here’s all you need to know:
How the scam plays out
In a romance ruse, a scammer will create a bogus online profile and attempt to connect to singles on dating apps and websites, as well as through social media platforms. After a connection is formed, the scammer will work to build up the relationship with the victim, calling and texting often. Once the scammer has gained the victim’s trust, the scammer will spin a sorry story and ask the victim for money.
The scammer may explain that they cannot meet in person because they are currently living or traveling outside the United States. They’ll claim to be a doctor working for an international organization, a blue-collar worker in the middle of a construction project or to be part of the military and currently serving overseas. They may ask for money to help cover travel expenses, pay for medical treatment, cover customs fees at the airport or to pay for a visa or other official travel documents.
The scammer will ask for payment via wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Once they’ve received the funds, they will disappear. Alternatively, the scammer will ask their “date” to share personal financial information and then go on to empty the victim’s accounts.
How to spot a romance scam
If you’re in the market for a new date and you’re hoping to meet someone online, look out for these red flags:
Profile is too good to be true. If a single’s profile has unrealistic credentials, including a magazine-worthy photo, you’re likely looking at a scam.
Single rushes into the relationship. If the contact comes on too strong, too fast, it may be a scam.
Single asks you for money. Don’t believe a money-starved story of someone you just met online, especially if they start asking you to help them out.
How to play it safe online
Avoid falling victim to romance scams and similar ruses by following basic online safety rules.
First, never share personal details online with anyone whose identity you cannot verify. This includes all financial information, credit card details and personal information that can be used to unlock a password on any of your accounts.
Second, only visit secure sites and keep all the settings on your social media pages private. Never engage in conversation with a stranger who reaches out to you on a platform you’ve just begun using, or who sends you personal texts or emails you without any prior communication.
It’s equally important never to send money to anyone online.
If you suspect a romance scam
If you believe you’ve been targeted by a romance scam, take these steps to avoid further damage:
Do a reverse-image search of the profile picture to see if it’s a stock photo or an image that was plucked off the internet. You can also ask the contact to share a current photo of themselves.
If your research confirms your suspicions, stop all communication with the scammer immediately. Block the scammer’s number and flag their emails as spam. If you’ve already paid a romance scammer with a prepaid gift card, call the company that issued the card to ask them to refund your money.
Report the scam to the FTC. It’s also a good idea to alert the website or app that the scammer is using. You may also consider warning your friends about the scam.
Follow the tips outlined above to keep your love life scam-free.
Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a romance scam? Tell us about it in the comments.