Over the past few years of writing these columns I have written multiple times on the need to protect yourself from scammers. Generally speaking, these articles have related to people seeking to obtain access to your identity or financial information to do you harm. However, there is another place con-artists attempt to gain access that may be even more dangerous…your heart.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, in the last five years alone, Americans have reported losing a staggering $1.3 billion to romance scams. While these numbers are huge, the FTC admits that due to the embarrassing nature of these crimes, they often go unreported. As a result, the real number is likely much higher. https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/data-visualizations/data-spotlight/2022/02/reports-romance-scams-hit-record-highs-2021
Before you think this could never happen to you, just know the demographics of romance scam victims are quite diverse. While seniors are the biggest victims, losing 151 million last year alone, the age and sex of potential victims covers the entire spectrum. In fact, the fastest growing group to fall victim to such crimes are those between the ages of 18-29.
This victimization of young people has led to particularly tragic results. Recently, over a dozen have committed suicide after being blackmailed with explicit photos that the victims had sent to the scammers. Sadly, even underage kids are being targeted with this kind of crime. FBI officials say the bureau got more than 7,000 reports of online sextortion involving minors in 2022 alone.
In our technology driven world, it would be unrealistic to think we can eliminate online dating or communications. If anything, it is only going to get more popular as the technology advances. Instead, our focus needs to be on protecting ourselves and those we love from online predators. While many of these tips apply to real world situations as well, they are particularly important when building relationships with people on the internet.
- Be wary of claims made by people you have not known for a long time. Often, scammers create fake profiles and histories that can seem very real at first glance. Depending on the person they are scamming they will conform their own stories to elicit the reactions they want from their potential victim. They use information you have shared on social media to shape their persona to match what they think you are looking for. For example, it is not uncommon for a scammer targeting a recently widowed individual to make themselves appear to resemble their victim’s recently deceased spouse.
- Question excuses not to meet in person Because so many of these con artists are not located here in the US, they often must have excuses for why an in-person meeting is impossible. Popular careers these individuals claim to have include offshore oil drillers, military personnel, or international business executives. For those who do claim to live nearby, be cognizant of those who always seem to have an emergency at the time in which you plan to meet up in person.
- Watch out for people who pressure you quickly to take things to the next level. Scammers want to progress things as quickly as they can. This will often include professing their undying love for you shortly after first meeting. They may also begin sending you explicit photos or videos of “themselves” early in the relationship and request you do the same. Like in the real world, taking things too quickly is often a warning sign of danger. Insist the person slow down, if they protest it may be time to end things.
- Seek advice from people around you that you trust. They say love is blind, and online love is no exception. Very often in these types of relationships a victim can be so emotionally invested in a situation that logic takes a back seat. That’s why it’s always important to seek out the advice of those around you. Tell a close friend what is happening. And ask them to speak up if it doesn’t feel right to them.
Like so much in life, the best advice I can give when it comes to avoiding romantic scammers is to use common sense, and remember that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
(Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The advice is general in nature and not intended for specific situations)