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Don’t be sweet-talked by romance scammers

February is the month of romance but to some individuals, it’s also the month of scamming. With the prevalence of online dating apps and social networking sites, romance scammers have more opportunity than ever to execute their scams.

What is a romance scam?

Romance scams are initiated by people who create fake profiles on dating sites and apps or social media platforms to trick you into sending money. They build a relationship over time to establish trust before asking for money and then create believable situations aimed at gaining your sympathy…and your money. Situations could be urgent or health-related or simply used to buy a plane ticket to visit you.

How prevalent are romance scams?

The Federal Trade Commission reported over $500 million in losses to romance scams in 2021, nearly doubling the total from 2020. In addition, people reported paying romance scammers most often with gift cards than any other payment method. In 2021, scammers also requested payment with cryptocurrency, adding more expenses for the victims.

Who is the most susceptible to romance scammers?

Romance scammers tend to target lonely or older people because they are typically most likely to be responsive to a new relationship, as well as more likely to have money saved. Complicating the situation is the isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

What are the methods used by romance scammers?

Scammers are meticulous with their schemes to con you into believing their interest is genuine. This means they will spend enough time talking to you in order for them to compile a story that will work for your individual situation. While the details may change, there are some common threads that will be prevalent throughout their stories.

  • They will be direct and specific when asking for money. Once they gain your trust, scammers will ask you to pay for something specific like transportation or an impending surgery.
  • They will make excuses to avoid meeting you in person. Scammers will never meet face-to-face and will provide you with any reason to avoid it, like working overseas or across the country. You should never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
  • They will suggest the best payment options for you. Scammers will tell you how to pay in the quickest way possible. They will also endeavor to make it harder for you to retrieve your money. Be wary of requests for wire transfers, gift cards, or money grams.
  • They may be the one sending you funds, or at least fictitious funds, in hopes of taking your real money. Romance scammers often send their victims counterfeit checks. They instruct their victims to deposit the checks, then return some or all of the funds to them through CashApp or PayPal. When the check is returned to the bank as counterfeit days later, the customer is at a loss, as they just sent out the amount of the check from their own pocket.

What should I do if I suspect I’m being scammed?

If something doesn’t seem right with a person you met online, follow your instincts, and stop contact immediately. If you’re unsure about the person’s credibility, do some homework. Search for the person’s name and/or photo online to see if it’s connected to another name or if there is a limited amount of information across platforms. Run a search for the job the individual claims to have and add the word “scammer” to see if there are other stories about that type of scam. Set up a video call to verify their identity. Finally, ask your friends and family if they have any concerns about this person.

Never give out your banking information to ANYONE, especially someone you meet online. Some scammers are very direct and will ask for account numbers, social security numbers, and even online banking credentials. If someone asks for this information, cut all contact with that person immediately. If you realize that this person has obtained your personal information, call your bank immediately and inform them that your account has been compromised.

If you conclude that you are being scammed, report it to the Federal Trade Commission and the site or app where you met the scammer. If you already sent money, notify the company or bank where the money was withdrawn. They will assist you with the process and possibly recoup some, if not all, of your money.

Written by Francis E. Stone

Francis is a Fraud Manager at First Keystone Community Bank.

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Posted On:

February 21, 2023

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