The most common victims are women over age 40 who are either divorced, widowed, or disabled. Victims are targeted based on the personal information they provide to online dating and social media sites. In addition, scammers create fake profiles creatively designed to lure in their victims. Scammers will even go to the trouble to research a victim’s personal interests to create a more attractive and ultimately deceitful profile. Romance scammers take advantage of their victim’s emotional state and depend on garnering affection and attention to build trust with their victim.
The fake profile is the start of the scammer’s quest to connect emotionally with the victim. The scammer typically creates a fake story illustrating their urgent need for money. These include travel expenses, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospital bills, losses from some type of financial event. Scammers will claim to be from the United States, but they will say they have trouble accessing funds because they are currently out of the country.
Victims typically do not have many assets to cover these types of expenses. However, they become infatuated with their new online romance and are tricked into doing anything they can to help. The fraudster may ask the victim to send money via Western Union or MoneyGram.
In some cases, the fraudster will ask the victim for their online banking credentials. Then, the scammer logs in to the victim’s account and uses remote deposit capture to deposit fraudulent checks and then they ask the victims to send the funds to them via Western Union or MoneyGram. Note that wiring money is the same as sending cash. Once the victim sends the money, it is gone and cannot be recovered.
If you are participating in online dating and/or social media activity, use these tips to keep safe and protect yourself from potential fraudsters.
1. Never send money to anyone you do not know personally. An online profile for someone you have never met face to face does not count. Do not send money through any wire transfer service to someone you met online.
2. Beware if an individual seems too good to be true. Take it slow and ask lots of questions.
3. Stick to online dating sites with a nationally known reputation. Report any suspicious activity to the site. Plus, do not allow someone to take your interactions away from the dating site. Scammers will ask for your personal email or instant messaging information in order to be caught by the online dating site’s internal controls.
4. Finally, keep copies of all communications. If you feel you’ve been a victim of an online dating scam, contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.