According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), more than $1.3 billion vanished in 2022 due to romance scams. The surge in online dating has amplified this deception, impacting more than 70,000 Americans.
Are you longing for a special someone to share Valentine's Day with? Young and old alike are falling prey to romance scams.
Popularity of Online Dating
With the rise of online dating, romance scams are easier to accomplish. You're eager for a face-to-face meeting, but they can't comply. Their excuse is often seamlessly woven into their fabricated identity.
Asserting to be stationed on a distant military base is the most prevalent pretext, while working abroad or traveling for work is another frequent reason. Frequently, these perpetrators focus on older individuals and those facing challenges in relationships or experiencing emotional vulnerability.
According to the FTC report, romance scammers frequently target individuals seeking love through dating apps. However, reports of romance scams initiated with unsolicited private messages on social media platforms are even more prevalent.
Surprisingly, 40% of those who reported financial losses to romance scams disclosed that the initial contact occurred on social media, while 19% mentioned it began on a website or app.
Numerous victims reported that the scammer swiftly transitioned from charming conversations on dating apps to WhatsApp, Google Chat, or Telegram platforms.
Generational Divide With Online Scams
Younger individuals are targeted differently compared to older folks. Individuals aged 18 to 29 were more than six times more likely to report falling victim to “sextortion” compared to those aged 30 and above.
That’s when scammers manipulate individuals into sharing explicit photos. Once shared, the once lovely potential companions turn dark, threatening to expose victims to their social media connections.
Approximately 58% of sextortion reports in 2022 cited social media as the initial contact method, with Instagram and Snapchat being the most commonly mentioned platforms.
Older adults experiencing loneliness and isolation are particularly susceptible to romance scammers posing as helpful individuals. They may present themselves as successful stock investors offering to teach you the ropes, but any funds you “invest,” end up in their pockets.
Alternatively, they could claim to have sent you a valuable package or mistakenly detained by foreign government officials, requiring you to send money for fictional “customs” or other fees. It's all a deception — you send the money, and the promised package never materializes.
Some romance scammers also fabricate stories about being sick, injured, or in legal trouble, creating a false pretext to persuade you to send them money.
Romance Scams Are Hard To Investigate
Proving and investigating this crime poses significant challenges, primarily because many scammers operate overseas. They function not as solitary operators but as part of organized fraud rings, employing sophisticated techniques. Additionally, these scammers are known to engage in phone number spoofing.
They may even hire actors to communicate with victims over the phone, enhancing the establishment of trust obtained through deceptive means.
Many victims hesitate to report the crime due to feelings of embarrassment and humiliation arising from being deceived, primarily when they have invested emotionally and financially in the relationship. This leads victims to send money to scammers and exposes them to additional fraudulent schemes.
The personal and intimate information shared by victims is often exploited for identity fraud and financial account takeovers, among other scams.
Scammers sometimes manipulate victims into unwittingly participating in criminal activities, such as laundering and transferring fraudulent funds, leaving the victims financially and potentially criminally liable.
Tips To Avoid Being Scammed
1. Be careful of what you post online. Perpetrators conduct thorough research on prospective victims. They scour social media and dating platforms to uncover details about their lives and personalities. Proficient in manipulation, they exploit the information gathered from open and personal posts, strategically building a connection with the victim over an extended period.
This gradual approach creates a genuine connection and romantic interest and leads victims to invest emotionally in the online relationship. The anonymity afforded by the internet allows criminals to operate covertly, spending unlimited time searching for potential victims and patiently waiting for someone to fall prey to their tactics.
2. Exercise caution if someone requests inappropriate photos or financial information from you. Fraudsters coerce individuals into divulging explicit photos and frequently resort to threats of publicizing these images to their social media connections.
3. Remain vigilant if the individual repeatedly fails to appear for scheduled meetings and consistently provides excuses. Fraudsters frequently present themselves as having high net worth or hailing from well-to-do or influential families, citing extensive international travel due to their business interests.
They employ a strategy of rapidly cultivating relationships, aiming to gain the trust of their victims swiftly and occasionally proposing marriage. However, when victims attempt to arrange face-to-face meetings, the scammers consistently fail to show up, providing a series of excuses.
4. Be suspicious, and do not send money or share any financial information. Be cautious of providing financial information, as scammers may use it for extortion. Refrain from sending money to individuals you've only interacted with online or through phone conversations, primarily when the request is via cryptocurrency, wire transfers, or gift cards.
Protect Your Loved Ones
Increase awareness to safeguard yourself and your older loved ones. While discussing romance scams may be uncomfortable, ensure that you, your family, and your friends are well-informed about them.
The more knowledge you have about these scams, the more effectively you can protect yourself and others from falling victim to them. Regularly reach out to older loved ones. Scammers specifically aim to exploit individuals living alone or coping with the loss of a spouse, recognizing them as more susceptible targets.
If you suspect you've fallen victim to a scam, cease communication with the individual promptly. Discuss the situation with someone you trust, and provide details. Report the incident to local law enforcement. File a fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Even if recovering losses is no longer possible, sharing details can prevent others from falling victim to similar scams.
The IRS takes serious note of anyone who acquires money or assets through illegal means. Failing to report these earnings is tax evasion and a crime.
Riley Adams, CPA and founder of WealthUp, says, “Who'd have thought a ruling that led to the eventual arrest and conviction of famed mobster Al Capone would also lay the groundwork for capturing modern dating scammers looking to swindle people out of crypto, gift cards, and other forms of digital money?
“The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1927 that gains from illicit traffic in liquor are subject to the income tax and became the underpinning of a later case that held an embezzler needed to include his ill-gotten gains inside his gross income on his tax return.”