One of the fastest growing scams in the United States are romance scams. In fact, consumers reported losing a record 304 million dollars last year, which is up 50 percent from the previous year. Over the past 5 years, the amount of money reported lost to romance scams is up almost 400 percent. And because of the embarrassment often tied to these scams, what’s reported is probably much lower than actual occurrences of romance scams.
Experts suggest that COVID is probably one reasons this particular scam has been on the rise.
A romance scam usually works like this: You meet someone on a dating website, mobile app or social media and have some incredibly deep and wonderful conversations. Unfortunately, the person probably doesn’t live nearby, or even in the same country… and there’s always an excuse as to why you can’t meet in person… which is why this scam has taken off during COVID.
Through your ongoing conversations, you build up trust and a deep emotional connection with the person… Despite never having met them, they’ll probably tell you they can’t live without you. Once they feel the romance is strong enough, they’ll ask you to send money. It might start small, like money for a phone card so they can keep calling or texting you.
Next, they usually find something that’ll pull on your heart strings… like money for a car repair, so they don’t lose their job… or it might be money for a medical procedure for themselves or a close relative. One of the ways most people fall for this scam, is perhaps one of its biggest tip-offs… There’s usually a sense of urgency for which they need the money. They’ll push hard to get you to wire them the money quick. And if you fall for it, they’ll keep coming back for more, with something that’s even more important, and more urgent.
It’s also not always cash they want wired. A growing number of scammers are asking for gift cards. They’re harder to track, and it’s easy for the scammer to get you to read the pin numbers over the phone.
Last year, the average victim was taken for about 25 hundred dollars before they realized it was a scam. The largest reported losses were when the scammer convinced the victim he had actually sent them a large amount of money. The scammer would then ask the person to send that same amount back or on to someone else. The FTC discovered that often it’s turned out the person was being used to launder stolen unemployment benefits.
These scammers often have a lot of different dating profiles and will pose as both men and women to find their victims. They’re also usually running multiple romance scams at the same time. While people older than 70 years old reported average losses of almost 10 thousand dollars, it was actually victims in their twenties that increased the most this past year.
Here are a few things you can do to avoid falling for a romance scam:
It sounds obvious, but don’t send money or gifts to someone you’ve never met, even if they send you money first. Next, talk with somebody you know about your new love interest. When you’re in love, it’s easy to miss signs when things don’t add up… listen to family and friends if they say they’re concerned. Next, ask questions… the scammer may not remember everything about the persona they’ve created, so look for inconsistencies. Do a reverse photo search… If they send you pictures, upload the photo to Google images and see what comes up… if the pictures have someone else’s name, or the details don’t match up, this should be a red flag.
Finally, take it slow… don’t let them ever rush you to send money or gift cards. You can’t always help it if you end up looking for love in all the wrong places, but love really hurts when you get taken by a romance scam.