It starts with a text message from a random number. The scammer claims he's only in town for the weekend visiting family and would love to catch up. If the alleged victim responds, the scammer apologizes for texting the wrong number by mistake… but you seem nice, he might say, would you still like to meet up anyway?
Or maybe you receive strange messages on a dating site: love bombing followed by requests for financial assistance, usually in the form of gift cards, which are difficult to trace.
Scammers are everywhere, and romantic opportunities provide endless scenarios for fraud and deception.
Skepticism is critical, and so is staying prepared. The more stories we tell about scams, the less likely these predators will succeed in the future. Wealth of Geeks talked to a lawyer, an expert in consumer advocacy, and a dating expert, so you can better understand how to spot the signs and protect yourself before you fall prey to the latest romance scam.
Romance Scams on the Rise
In a study published by the American Psychologist, researchers found that the pandemic led to an increase in loneliness. The sense of isolation, loneliness, and fear made many unsuspecting people the perfect target for a romance scam.
We talked with Kerry Sherin, a consumer advocate at BeenVerified, to better understand how the pandemic impacted scammers' ability to deceive. According to their research, “romance scams initiated via message or phone calls in the 22 months after shutdowns began in March 2020 increased 197%.”
Sherin and her team received 6,000 user complaints related to romance scams between 2020 and 2021. “That's more than double the previous four years combined,” she told us.
Despite the spike in cases, Sherin knows what red flags to look for and shared them with us. Some signs you're being scammed include: the scammer wants to move the conversation to a different messaging platform, the relationship moves very fast within a few conversations, and the use of gift cards is often preferred for money requests.
Internet Crime Is a Booming Industry
According to the FBI's Internet Crime Report, in 2021, there were 847,376 internet crime complaints, which amounted to $6.9 billion in losses. These numbers have increased steadily, suggesting that internet crime isn't going anywhere any time soon. Five years ago, there were only 301,580 complaints and $1.4 billion defrauded.
Of these complaints, romance and confidence scams accounted for the third highest losses and were the subject of 24,299 complaints. According to the FBI's research, 32% of romance scams are acted out against people over the age of 60.
The FBI also warns of a new trend where the romance scam might involve investment opportunities, often cryptocurrency. This type of scam — known by its nickname “pig butchering” — is becoming more successful for scammers. With pig butchering, the scammer combines an investment scam with a romance scam to get their potential target to invest large sums in fake cryptocurrency apps.
So far, the results have been disastrous for their victims.
Laura Francis, a California realtor, lost her daughter's inheritance to a pig butchering scam. She claims to have lost $248,000. Francis was skeptical of her mystery Facebook suitor, but her skepticism did not save her. “I asked millions of questions,” she said, “because I didn't trust or believe anything from the first.”
Among the FBI's tips for avoiding romance scammers, one piece of advice rings true: “Beware if the individual seems too perfect.”
Navigating Scammers in the Digital Age
If the FBI's data tells us anything, it's that the Internet will constantly be a playground for scammers, but that doesn't mean you have to get sucked up in the latest scam.
We talked with criminal lawyer Gabriel Krikunez to get his advice on navigating scammers in today's increasingly digital age. Krikunez has been working in criminal law for over thirty years.
“One telltale sign is that they are avoiding personal meetings,” he told us. “Typically, they will put up a physical barrier, such as moving to another state, to make it impossible even to consider meeting them,” says Krikunez.
This second piece of advice might surprise you: analyze their grammar. “Look out for grammar mistakes and other faults,” he advises. “Some texts may include strange typos and sound like they were translated automatically.”
Dating in Shark-infested Waters
“When I started dating online, I engaged with scammers to discover what their game was and to come up with some red flags to help me navigate the shark-infested waters,” Shannon Peel told us.
She encourages potential victims to be weary of anyone with a sob story, jobs in these specific areas: oil, military, or engineers part of large infrastructure projects, and anyone who doesn't answer direct questions.
Some scammers will “send you ‘proof' without you asking,” explains Peel, “things like an invoice, website, or other odd pieces of evidence to back up their story.”
Another red flag is that they are always online when you log on, and you receive a message right away. Be wary of anyone who responds in headlines and not personal details when you ask about their town.
Scammers are always trying to solicit information they can use against you later on. “They might ask you questions about your favorite color, school, pet… things that password recovery questions will want answers for,” Peel told us.
Internet scams cost Americans $6.9 million last year. While scammers will find new ways to defraud innocent people, you can stay vigilant in the face of these warning signs to protect yourself.
The dating scene can be brutal, but you don't need to get scammed on your journey to find love.
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Justin McDevitt is a playwright and essayist from New York City. His latest play HAUNT ME had its first public reading at Theater for the New City in September. He is a contributor for RUE MORGUE where he lends a queer eye to horror cinema in his column STAB ME GENTLY.