Hold your heart… and your wallet

Hold your heart… and your wallet

On Valentine’s Day, some steal hearts, some steal money, some steal both, and now, romance-related scams have become the most costly form of online fraud.

When one turns to the Internet to find love, the least thing you’re expecting is to get scammed, but reality shows a different reality: Love scams have now become the most costly form of online fraud.

U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report found that the number of romance related scams have been on alarming rates over the past five years. In 2015, about $33 million worth of romance scams were filed with the FTC. One year later, in 2016, almost 15,000 complaints categorized as romance scams or confidence fraud were reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), as 14,546 people were victims of romance or confidence scams, up from 5,791 people in 2014, with losses exceeding $230 million. By 2018, Sentinel reported to having more than 21,000 reports about romance scams, and people reported losing a total of $143 million. The median loss of romance scams is about $2,600.

Age is not necessarily an impediment for this practice, as both younger generations and elders are a great target for these scams, however, people who said they were ages 40 to 69 reported losing money to romance scams at the highest rates – more than twice the rate of people in their 20s, says the FTC. At the same time, people 70 and over reported the highest individual median losses at $10,000 as most wire money, give reusable gift cards, sor hand over their card PIN, all largely irreversible money transfers.

How it begins

According to the FTC, generally romantic scams start online, luring people in with “lifting photos from the web to create attractive and convincing personas.” They might make up names or assume the identities of real people, and once these fraudsters have people by the heartstrings, they beginning saying they need emergency money, often for a medical emergency or some other misfortune. They often claim to be in the military and stationed abroad, which explains why they can’t meet in person. Pretending to need help with travel costs for a long-awaited visit is another common ruse.

Helped by data breaches and social media, these attacks are becoming more common in part because scammers are better able to find information about the victims online in advance and effectively ‘hacking’ the victim’s emotions and their sense of vulnerability and loneliness, rather than trying to perform a technical assault, says Nathan Wenzler, senior director of cybersecurity at Seattle-Wash.

It’s important to remember that romance scammers want to get anything valuable from you. Whether it be cash, jewelry or other gifts, these scammers are not interested in you—only what you can give them, writes The Carlson Law Firm. The best way to avoid romance scams is to know who you’re dealing with, and for this you can meet in a public place, avoid sending money or gifts to a potential love interest, search for them on Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Instagram and even reverse image searches on Google, say no to revealing too much personal information, and avoid feeling a false sense of safety because you’re the one who made first contact

AARP lists some warning signs you can watch out for to spot a romance scam:

  • Your new romantic interest sends you a picture that looks more like a model from a fashion magazine than an ordinary snapshot.
  • The person quickly wants to leave the dating website and communicate with you through email or instant messaging.
  • He or she lavishes you with attention. Swindlers often inundate prospective marks with texts, emails and phone calls to draw them in.
  • He or she repeatedly promises to meet you in person but always seems to come up with an excuse to cancel.

About the Author:

Abigail Mitchell
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