Romance scams can be devastating for victims as well as their loved ones and while you may be scoffing at the idea that people actually fall for such a scam, don’t be so quick to judge. According to the FBI, more than $220 million was lost by victims of romance scams in 2017. That’s seven times more than phishing scams and almost 100 times more than ransomware attacks. So before you convince yourself that you are too smart to fall victim to such a scam, understand that it’s already happened to people who felt the same way.
What is a Romance Scam?
To make sure you understand exactly what a romance scam looks like, let’s start with a story:
Once upon a time…
Dottie, a divorced woman in her 50’s, receives an email from a stranger, Frank, claiming to be a friend of a friend. Through email and/or phone exchanges, one thing leads to another and these two begin a serious long-distance relationship. Franks says all of the right things at the right time, offering the partnership, comfort and companionship that Dottie has long desired. They fall in love. Time and time again, Frank requests money, which he, of course, says he’ll repay as soon as he’s able. In the end, Dottie lends Frank all of her money, and as you may guess, Frank never pays her back, never meets her in person and once he realizes her bank account is depleted, he disappears. Dottie is devastated and has lost every penny to her name.
Not the happy ending Dottie had envisioned. She was the victim of a romance scam and in the end, lost everything.
Online imposters usually contact their victims via email or social media to start a friendship that leads to a romantic relationship. Eventually, this person requests money from the victim. They may say it’s so they can move closer, pay a bill after facing something devastating or many other false narratives to manipulate and exploit their victim. If a victim doesn’t catch on or heed the warning of their loved ones, this can eventually lead to them losing all of their money.
The Usual Suspects
It’s hard to say precisely who a romance scammer is since they often disappear without leaving a clue or trace behind. It’s far easier to know who the targets of these scams are. Typically women who are recently divorced or widowed will be targeted and those who tend to be more sensitive and emotional are more likely to fall victim. A scammer will share [very fake] information and pictures, which tend to be nothing more than average as to not draw suspicion. This is in hopes of gaining their victims trust quickly and starting something romantic as fast as possible. They may even go so far as to propose marriage for the sole purpose of gaining a victims trust before asking for money. Romance scammers are novices at exploiting and they spend lots of time and effort in crafting their skills and becoming experts at manipulating. This is why no one should be quick to say they could never be so naïve as to fall victim to such a scam. These bad guys are pros at being “nice guys.”
- Keep your social media accounts private
We live in an incredibly public world where information about our lives is easy to access. As a matter of fact, we make things really easy for scammers when we have public social media accounts. They can send a friend request to a few of your closest friends to show they have a connection to you. They can see who your family members are and, by watching the pictures you post, see what you’ve been up to recently. Social media is a double-edged sword. It’s great for connecting with our friends and family as well as keeping up with our many long lost friends, but it makes us vulnerable, especially if we accept friend requests without actually making sure there’s a genuine connection. Keep your social accounts private and don’t accept friend requests without being sure you know the contact.
- Take it really slow
If you get a message or email from a stranger and you feel it’s worth engaging (really assess if it is worth engaging – remember these are stealthy con artists), ask lots of questions and take things as slow as possible. They will also be asking you lots of questions, likely, the first of which will be what you do for a living so they can assess how much money they can get. First and foremost, don’t answer their questions, but if you’re not sure if you’re being scammed and you want to engage in conversation, give as little information out about yourself as possible.
- Don’t give out any of your information
It can't be stressed enough to never give out any of your sensitive, private, personal or financial information. No one should be asking for this kind of information and you should never share it with anyone. Additionally, you should never send money in any shape form or fashion. That means no gift cards, wire transfers and large sums of money.
- Listen to the warnings of friends and loved ones
Lastly, listen to the warnings of your friends and loved ones if they are concerned you’re being scammed. It’s easy to want to believe that you’ve found the love of your life, especially if you’re feeling lonely, but there is no happy ending and this is not a fairy tale. If the people who love you most are telling you to watch out, listen to them.
Be sure to stay aware of malicious scams of all kinds and keep your happily ever after. If you would like more about keeping your information secure, check out these blogs on Phishing Scams and How to Stay Safe While Using Public Computers and Wifi.