Americans looking for love lost at least $143 million to romance scammers in 2018, according to reports filed with the Federal Trade Commission. And individual losses due to romance scams were about seven times higher than all other fraud types.1
Romance con artists are effective because they are CONVINCING. These imposters tend to approach you from multiple angles by engaging you in emotionally charged or relationship-oriented conversations. In many cases, the goal is to build trust in order to exploit you for sensitive information or financial support. Dating and romance scams often take place through online dating websites, but scammers may also use social media or email to make contact. These scams are also known as ‘catfishing’.
Here are some of the warning signs:
- You meet someone online or they reach out to you via email and after just a few contacts or a short time, they begin to profess their love or strong feelings for you.
- They ask you to start communicating by text or personal email, away from the original site you met on and their messages are often vague, inconsistent and sometimes poorly written.
- Their online profile is too good to be true and may not match everything they tell you. Watch for inconsistencies.
- When there is an agreement to meet in person or over video chat, they always cancel or delay due to some emergency.
After gaining your trust, they make their move:
- They start telling you stories of bad luck or medical illnesses.
- They ask for products to be shipped to your home and then forwarded elsewhere (generally with promises of reimbursement) with stories often involving charitable organizations (i.e. orphanages or domestic violence shelters).
- They ask for assistance moving money or goods for “foreign dignitaries” who will often make promises of excessively generous reimbursement in exchange for assistance.
Actual email received by a Verizon employee
Here are some reminders for how to avoid opportunistic imposters:
- Maintain objectivity: If it sounds “too good to be true,” it usually is. You should exercise extreme caution with anyone you meet online.
- Ask a friend or family member: Run the situation by someone who you trust to see if a request or situation sounds reasonable.
- If you are “too embarrassed” to tell someone about your conversations with this person, you may be trying to tell yourself something.
- These con artists often play on your vulnerability and then leverage the embarrassment of the situation to keep you from contacting the authorities or taking legal action.
Look out for common, tell-tale signs that you are dealing with a con artist:
- They will make promises to pay you back.
- They will tell you that your support is going toward a charity or helping others.
- They will make requests for gift cards instead of cash.
- They will often request that support be sent overseas.
If you think you or someone you know is a victim of a romance scam, please act immediately:
- Stop all contact with that individual.
- Block all phone numbers, email addresses, and social media accounts from the scammer.
- Contact your bank to close or change any affected accounts.
- Save all emails, text messages and pictures about the individual. You may need to provide this information when you file a police report.