Valentine’s Day is approaching, and many hope to spend it with someone special. With the rise of social media and online dating over the years, there are more ways than ever to find love. However, these platforms also create opportunities for scammers to reach potential victims.
Two dozen Texans reported romance scams to BBB Scam Tracker last year, losing over $55,000 total and an average of more than $2,000 each. According to the 2018 and 2019 Scam Tracker Risk Reports, the financial impact of this scam has increased in recent years, making them the costliest type of fraud for consumers.
Not only can romance scams be financially devastating, but they are emotionally trying for the individuals who fall for them. Scammers generally reach their victims via social media or dating apps, where they begin to build a relationship with them. The impostors share stories about themselves, often claiming they work overseas and need plane tickets home, have sick relatives or are experiencing financial troubles. This information, often accompanied by excuses for never meeting in person, is meant to convince their targets to send them money.
Some begin to ask for money after a few days or weeks, while others will keep the charade up for several months, allowing their target to become emotionally invested in the relationship. One Texas woman lost $43,000 after a relationship that lasted three months, sharing with BBB that she became engaged to a man she met online who claimed to be working in Saudi Arabia. He said to expect an expensive package, then repeatedly asked her to pay thousands of dollars to cover shipping, insurance costs and various fees. “I did not want to pay at first, but the man who claimed to be my fiancé kept begging me to pay because he said he spent lots of money on the package. I just did what he said because I really liked him, and he seemed real on the phone.”
Data from Better Business Bureau, the Financial Industry Regulation Authority (FINRA) and the Stanford Center for Longevity show that women ages 55 to 64 are most likely to be targeted for a romance scam. In addition to common risk factors, COVID-19 and the CARES Act motivated scammers to steal federal funds through romance scams. After the recent distribution of stimulus checks, and hopes of more to come, taxpayers should be especially diligent when interacting with people online.
Use these tips from your Better Business Bureau to protect your heart and wallet this Valentine’s Day:
• Never send money to strangers. Never give money to someone you haven’t met in person. Be especially wary if they ask you to send funds through wire transfer, money orders or pre-paid cards, as these forms of payment are untraceable and cannot be returned. Cut off contact immediately with anyone who requests money online.
• Use reverse image search. Scammers can create very convincing profiles by using photos stolen from other users. If you suspect an account is fake, use reverse image search to see if their pictures are used on other profiles.
• Don’t believe sad stories. Victims of romance scams are often pulled in by stories that tug on the heartstrings, making them want to help the scammer or their family. Resist the urge to send them money, no matter how urgent the situation may seem.
• Take it slow. One red flag of a romance scam is someone who is eager to move the conversation off of the website or establish a serious relationship in a short amount of time without meeting first. Take your time to get to know your match and ensure they are who they say they are.
For more tips on spotting and avoiding romance scams, visit us at BBB.org.
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