Both the Better Business Bureau and the FBI are warning people about romance scams, which are expected to remain an elevated threat leading up to Valentine’s Day. This type of scam has been made worse during the pandemic, as cases have spiked by 18% in the last year, according to the FBI. Here’s what you need to know.
What are romance scams?
Romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then exploits the relationship to manipulate or steal from the victim. The BBB has recent alerts about these two specific romance scams:
- The cryptocurrency scam: After building trust on an online dating platform, a scammer will quickly try to move the conversation to a texting app, such as WhatsApp or WeChat. That’s when they bring up “a family member who is a successful cryptocurrency investor” and present an “exclusive” opportunity. They then persuade the victim to deposit the money in a cryptocurrency trading platform, which of course is never seen again.
- The money mule scam: In this grift, a scammer from another country will, again, build trust and take the conversation to a texting app. Then they’ll make an unusual request in which they’ll send you money and then ask you to wire it back to them overseas. This is often accompanied by a hard luck story about their own bank accounts being “frozen.” According to the BBB, however, the funds are likely to be stolen COVID relief check money, and they are laundering the funds to make it untraceable.
Whatever the type of romance scam, if you’re uncomfortable about something, ask questions. If the other person refuses to give you direct answers, or their tone becomes more accusatory and aggressive, that’s a pretty good sign it’s a scam. A good standing rule is to never send money to someone you’ve haven’t met.
The BBB has these additional tips to help you avoid romance scams when using dating sites:
- Communicate on the dating app. If a love interest appears to be in a hurry to get off the dating app to an unsecure chat app, that’s a red flag.
- Ask specific questions about details given in a profile. A scammer may stumble over remembering details or making a story fit.
- Research the dating profile. Many scammers steal photos from the web to use in their profiles. Conduct a reverse image lookup using a website like tineye.com or images.google.com to see if the photos on a profile are stolen from somewhere else. Search online for a profile name, email, or phone number to see what adds up and what doesn’t. If it seems like a fake profile, report what you find to the dating app.
- Be careful about what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- Go slowly 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.
- Beware if the individual is never able to meet in person, or always has an excuse why they can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, you have good reason to be suspicious.
If you’ve been the victim of scam, report it on the BBB.org/ScamTracker.