Did you sign up for new online dating sites around Valentine’s Day, or reactivate an older account? Maybe you met someone new and started to correspond but haven’t yet been able to connect in person.
Before you fall head over heels in love here are a few words of caution.
Your new love interest may be a scammer. Romance scams are long cons; the scam artist invests lots of time and effort into the online relationship to build trust and a personal connection with the victim. This allows them to slowly and repeatedly ask for financial help.
What starts as requests for a small dollar amounts to be wire transferred turns into larger and larger amounts. It may be $30 for a bus ticket at first, and become a $30,000 “loan” request to tie up some loose affairs before you can finally meet in person.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) annual report shows a spike in scams reported in March and April for each of the last two available years (2014, 2015).
Con artists are meeting potential victims online around Valentine’s Day and then slowly building trust over following weeks. Your new love interest may not ask for funds until March or April and you may not realized you have been scammed till much later. Some online romance scams have gone on for years.
A recent variation on this scam incorporates the military. Scammers will either target deployed military personnel by preying on their loneliness while abroad, or they will pretend to be in the military stationed abroad and cite that as the reason they are unable to meet in person.
According to the FBI: The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do. They spend hours honing their skills and sometimes keep journals on their victims to better understand how to manipulate and exploit them.
Signs your new love interest might be a scam artist
Your online suitor may only be in it for the money if they:
- Press you to leave the dating website you met through and to communicate using personal e-mail or instant messaging;
- Are quick to proclaim their feelings of love;
- Use a photograph that looks like a glamour shot or seems overly processed;
- Claim to be from the U.S. and traveling or working overseas or in the military and stationed overseas;
- Make plans to visit you but are then unable to do so because of a tragic event;
- Ask for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimization).
If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
Don’t Become a Victim
Be careful what you post online. Scammers will find your information on a variety of platforms and can use that information to build trust or extort funds from you.
The FBI suggest always using reputable websites, but assume that con artists are trolling even the most reputable dating and social media sites. If you develop a romantic relationship with someone you meet online, consider the following:
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
- Go slow and ask lots of questions.
- 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.
- Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally
If you suspect an online relationship is a scam, stop all contact immediately. And if you are the victim of a romance scam, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
If you’ve sent money to someone via Western Union and suspect you’ve been scammed, call the company’s fraud hotline at (800) 448-1492.