What are online romance scams?
A romance scam often occurs when a scammer uses a fake online account to gain an individual's affection and trust, which they use to trick their victim into sending them money. Romance scammers toy with the hearts of their prey. They work to gain the trust of someone before taking advantage of them while vulnerable, such as after losing a loved one.
A romance scam may look like this: you meet someone online through a dating website or an app. They say all the right things and make your heart skip a beat, but they live far away. The next thing you know, they want to connect off the platform. They want to meet, but always cancel. And then craft some story to ask for money, or cleverly get you to volunteer to help them financially.
Scammers often make up compelling stories that require urgent action and leave little or no time for thinking logically and asking questions. One scammer’s story may mention their inability to pay for their child or parent’s lifesaving procedure. They share their stresses and anxiety in the situation and how they don’t know what they’re going to do. Another scammer may express that they want to visit you, but they can’t afford the plane ticket and it breaks their heart.
Signs of a scammer
Romance scams are cleverly crafted and many fall victim each year. Below are some red flags to look out for to avoid these scams and better protect yourself and your finances. Scammers often:
- Have a social media profile with vague or few images/information across platforms.
- Want to move communication to a more personal communication option, like exchanging phone numbers.
- Use phone or video calls instead of meeting in person so voice changing and/or deepfake (face or body altering) technologies can be used to disguise their true identities online.
- Quickly call it love.
- Ask for money to cover medical bills, traveling to see you, or to help get them out of trouble.
- Are very specific about payment, typically gift cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, or transactions through cash apps.
- Make plans to meet you, but an emergency comes up; they never keep their promises.
- Are TOO perfect. Exactly your type and have it all.
- May try to distance you from family and friends.
Avoid romance scams
Now that you know the signs of a scammer, here are some tips to help you from becoming a romance scam victim:
- Be careful what you post online. The more details you share, the more scammers know and can use to connect with you.
- Never send money or gifts to anyone you have not met in person, especially if you recently met through online dating, social media, or online games.
- Take things slow. Romance scammers rush relationships and even can propose early marriage to gain trust and show commitment.
- Pay attention to red flags.
Suspect a scam or have been a victim?
Whether you suspect a scam or have been the victim of one, follow these steps:
- Stop communicating with that person immediately.
- Know that you’re not alone. Confide in a trusted friend or family member for support.
- Report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
- Visit or contact any MSGCU branch for guidance on next steps.
Meeting people online can be exciting and helps build new relationships. While looking for The One, keep these warning signs in mind to help protect your finances and your heart.
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