What are Online Romance Scams:
Online romance scams are a common type of fraud that targets people looking for love and companionship on dating sites and social media platforms. These scams can have devastating consequences for victims, both emotionally and financially. Romance scams reached a record 304 million in losses reported to the FTC in 2020. That’s up about 50% from 2019. Here is some information about how online romance scams operate and how you can protect yourself from falling victim to one.
How Online Romance Scams Operate:
- Creating a fake persona: Scammers often create a fake profile on a dating site or social media platform, using photos of attractive people to entice potential victims. They will create an entirely fictional persona, often with a job, background, and interests designed to appeal to the victim.
- Building trust: Once the scammer has made contact with the victim, they will begin to build a relationship. They will use their fake persona to gain the victim's trust and create a sense of intimacy. They may spend weeks or even months talking to the victim, exchanging messages and photos.
- Asking for money: Once the scammer has built a relationship with the victim, they will start asking for money. They may claim to need money for an emergency, such as a medical expense or a family crisis, or they may ask for money to visit the victim. They may also ask the victim to send them gift cards or wire transfers.
- Disappearing: Once the scammer has obtained the money they were after, they will disappear. They will stop responding to messages and will cut off contact with the victim.
Romance scammers create fake profiles on dating sites and apps, or contact their targets through popular social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, or Google Hangouts. The scammers strike up a relationship with their targets to build their trust, sometimes talking or chatting several times a day. Then, they make up a story and ask for money. Please stay vigilant while using these apps or Social media websites.
How to Protect Yourself from Online Romance Scams:
- Be wary of anyone who asks for money: If someone you've met online asks for money, it's a red flag. Be especially wary if they ask for gift cards or wire transfers, as these are difficult to trace and can be a sign of a scam.
- Do a background check: Before you become too invested in a relationship with someone you've met online, do some research. Look up their name, email address, and phone number to see if there are any warning signs of a scam.
- Meet in person: Scammers are less likely to want to meet in person, so if someone you've been talking to online is hesitant to meet, it could be a sign that they're not who they claim to be.
- Trust your instincts: If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Don't ignore your gut feelings, and if you're unsure about someone, it's better to be safe than sorry.
If You Believe You Are Facing a Potential Romance Scam:
- Never send money – requesting money is a telltale sign of a scam.
- Never agree to accept and transfer money or goods – this is helping someone to commit fraud and it is illegal.
- Never send intimate photos – these open you to blackmail attempts
- Never share personal or financial information – it can provide access to your personal computer and accounts.
If You Are a Victim of a Scam:
See our guide on what to do if you are the victim of a scam / fraud.
You can also view the links below for more information regarding Romance Scams:
An Example of a Romance Scam:
"One day Georgina received a friend request from a serviceman on peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan. She decided to accept the request and allowed 'Jim' to be her Facebook friend. It didn’t start as a romance but he said he was lonely and looking for friends to keep him company while he was stuck on duty in the middle of nowhere. Soon after befriending her, Jim told Georgina he had lost his wife to cancer and his story of looking after her was similar to her own experience when her husband had died of cancer.
‘He then said he was being posted to Nigeria but his time in the U.S military was nearly finished. He sent me pictures that I now know were stolen from someone on the internet. He kept saying he couldn’t wait for us to be together. We became very close and he emailed me every day saying it was easier for him than using Facebook.’
Jim, who was a scammer, told Georgina he liked gemstones and wanted to set up a jewellery store when he retired. He said this was the best part of being in Nigeria because it was close to where the precious stones were being mined and he could buy them very cheaply.
He told Georgina he was coming to see her but had some trouble with his bank card not working in Nigeria and couldn’t get funds to pay for an export tax on his gemstones. Georgina transferred some money to him to cover the tax which he explained was only two percent of the value of the gemstones but still amounted to $15 000. It was a lot of money to send but she figured he was a good and honest serviceman and if things worked out they would spend the rest of their lives together.
All was going well until his stopover in Malaysia. Customs officials seized the gemstones and demanded payment to have them released. This time they were asking $20 000. I told him it would take some time to get the money and I had to borrow against the family home.’
Georgina sent the money to Malaysian officials but was told Jim was now in jail for smuggling and that she needed to contact his lawyer.
‘The lawyer said he needed to get an Anti-terrorism and Money Laundering certificate and this would be another $10 000. He said he also needed to pay for Jim’s court costs plus his own fees and this would be another $5000.’
Georgina sent the money but then Jim said there was another government official demanding payment to extend his visa while he waited for the court to process all the documents.
‘Almost every day I was contacted with a new demand for money. They sent me certificates signed by officials, forms to fill out and bills for everything. If you wanted to get anything done quickly you had to pay another fee. It seemed to me that the whole Malaysian government was corrupt. I don’t know exactly how much money I sent but it was well over $100 000. I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted to help Jim and I honestly thought he would pay me back.’
Even when Georgina ran out of money the demands didn’t stop. Unsure of what to do, Georgina finally talked to the police. They explained that her experience included the common features of a dating and romance scam and it would be very unlikely she would get her money back. She can’t help feeling in her heart that she let Jim down but she knows in her head it was all a scam".