How to Avoid Being Scammed by an Online Romance Scammer Hoping to Court You to Ruin
The story of Cindy Tsai – Newton’s lawyer who told the Herald how she was taken out for $2.5million by an online scammer who gained her trust as she was dying of cancer – n It’s not an isolated, but tragic example in the burgeoning romance scam racket, where the sophisticated, silver-tongued scammers of yore moved online.
Internet users have come a long way since the nascent days of the Internet in the 1990s, when a sudden email from a “Nigerian prince” or similar figure popped up, prompting the recipient to empty their bank account to help the future royal come out. of a complicated financial traffic jam for an exchange promised a huge monetary reward.
Netflix doc ‘The Tinder Swindler’, which was released in February, details the story of Israeli con artist Simon Leviev who allegedly used the dating app Tinder to meet women looking for love only to manipulate them emotionally so that they take out massive loans to back it up. They thought he was in danger and needed the money, but their debt only funded the elite lifestyle he led and used to woo his next target. Its popularity has helped shine a light on the sophistication of the modern scam.
A scammer’s job has always been to stay one step ahead of their possible targets, and in the modern era, that means taking the personal touch of old-school street scamming and bringing it to the world. modern world social media.
“People looking for love and companionship are the targets of romance scams, and anyone at any time can become a victim,” Boston FBI spokeswoman Kristen Setera told the Herald. “Generally, the perpetrators are men who target women over 40 who are divorced, widowed, elderly or disabled. But scammers do not discriminate. The scam usually starts with an “innocent” contact online and builds from there.
Victims of online romance scams come second only to victims of email account compromise scams, a scam that primarily affects work email addresses. In these scams, the criminal often spoofs an email address with which the target often does business – for example, by changing a single letter in an email address of a representative of a supply company and sending a false invoice to a target spending instructions to deposit the payment into a new bank account controlled by the scammer.
In Massachusetts last year, 553 people reported falling victim to a compromised email scam at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, collectively losing more than $61.7 million.
Despite being the biggest scam on the internet, romance and trust scams are one of the fastest growing categories of fraud. According to IC3 datawho collectively lost nearly $21.8 million, an average loss of just over $52,500.
Year after year, the number of victims of romance scams jumped 15% in 2020, to 361, but their losses soared 63% to over $8 million.
These personal losses are one thing, but Setera warns that your money could inadvertently fund other criminal activities.
Courted to Ruin: How to Avoid Being Scammed by a Romantic Scammer
There are common sense steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim and adding your story to these growing statistics.
- If you’re a high-income professional, especially a college graduate — which made up about 14% of the U.S. population in 2021, according to the United States Census Bureau – be on high alert. Love and confidence scammers are particularly attracted to this class, according to the volunteer-run Global Anti-Scam Organization.
- Beware of sharing personal information even before interacting with someone online, as “scammers can use information shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you,” Setera said. .
- The same goes for financial information: “You should also never disclose your current financial situation to people you don’t know or trust. Don’t provide your banking information, social security number, or other sensitive information to anyone you haven’t met or to a website you don’t know is legit,” Setera said.
- Trust the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” If your recent online fling suddenly starts hounding you about moneymaking opportunities with promises of big returns, get out. If the person persists despite your discomfort, learn from Tsai’s mistake and trust that the red flags are, in fact, cause for concern. Here are some examples:
- Inconsistency in the behavior of the potential scammer. The UK branch of Equifax, the credit bureau, gave an example of a scammer claiming to be college-educated but consistently using poor spelling and grammar in his communications.
- Beware of a potential love interest that moves too quickly in the love category. Are you at a time in life when you are more sensitive to flattery or attention? Look skeptically at any sudden adoration. Also beware of attempts to quickly move the conversation away from the original app or website.
- Finally, many advisers recommend the more technical step of doing a reverse image search of the photos your would-be scammer has sent you. You can upload an image to a search engine like Google or Bing or to the website tineye.com to see if it has popped up elsewhere online. If you find out it’s a stock photo or someone else’s photo, leave the situation immediately.
If you feel you’ve been scammed or have already lost money to an online romance scammer, Setera said you should alert your financial institution immediately and file a complaint at IC3.gov.