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Romance Scams

How to detect romance scams when meeting people online?

Every year more and more people are finding love online. And just like many other great developments thanks to technology, scammers move in and try to ruin it for everyone. In 2020 alone, the First Keystone Community Bank Fraud Department prevented over $170,000 in stolen and fraudulent funds from being sent to online scammers due to romance scams.

So, let’s talk about some of the major and consistent red flags we are seeing with these romance scams. We will break them down in the general order in which they tend to occur.

I like your profile, let’s talk

Typically, the initial contact is via social media or an online dating site. But we have had victims claim that they met their love interest in person. As this is out of the ordinary, it is possible the scammers are hiring people to find targets, or the scammer simply convinces the victim they have met before. Most, if not all, of the communication after the initial meet is via online messenger services, texts, or emails. Many victims have tried throughout the relationship to meet in person or video chat their love interest. The scammers always have an excuse as to why that cannot happen at that moment.

Love at first click

Once the initial spark or connection has been made, things get very serious very quickly. The scammer will explain that they have never felt this way before, and how special it is. The beginning of the courtship will involve the exchange of photos and gifts to gain the trust of their victim. These gifts are usually purchased with stolen credit cards from other victims. Once some trust has been established, the scammer will insist that all communication take place off of the original platform. They also insist that the victim no longer speaks with anyone else moving forward. In other words, they begin to isolate the victim.

My long distance love

Most of the time, the explanation provided by the online scammers for why an in-person meeting cannot take place is that they are stationed or working out of state, or more typically overseas. The description of their occupation or purpose for being so far is either purposefully vague or “top secret and classified”. These scammers are good at what they do, and have answers for everything. When in doubt they will guilt or intimidate the target if they even consider questioning the validity of something they have told them.

Sweetie, I’m broke

Next comes the beginning of the explanation as to why they cannot receive their own funds, or payment for the work they are away performing. The scammer will say and do whatever necessary to gain the victims sympathy. Now on to the main event, asking the victim for money. This can happen one of two ways, they may explain that their money is in holding in some way, and they need the victim to loan them money, promising to repay them shortly, or they will ask the victim to receive a check on their behalf, negotiate it and send them the funds.

Scamming the long game

A lot of victims we have spoken to have a hard time believing that a scammer would take over 6-12 months to ask for money, thinking they must be real if they are talking to them for that long. They also justify their belief in this being a real romance when they receive gifts assuming a scammer would not spend money. In reality, online scammers will buy a $60 bouquet of flowers if they are receiving $5,000 from their intended prey. Sadly, we have victims who don’t want to believe that they are the victim of romance scams. Some have lost important family connections, in addition to their life savings.

That sounds familiar …

If you are involved in a relationship that resembles what has been described above, please talk to someone. Talk to a friend, coworker or your bank to explain the situation and get a fresh perspective on it. Almost every victim at one-point thinks, “I have heard about those romance scams, but that is not what this is”. Reach out before sending money to someone you have not met in person or have not seen in some time. Once you send the money there is very little your bank or law enforcement can do to get it back.

Remember, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

First Keystone Community Bank is always here to help. Contact your local branch to speak with a friendly Keystone Banker who can assist with your questions and help guide you if you think you or a loved one have fallen for an online scammer.

Written by Jillian Guenther

Jillian Guenther is a Vice President with First Keystone Community Bank. She is the BSA Officer and Fraud Manager with over 10 years experience in scam detection and loss prevention.

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Posted On:

October 5, 2021

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