Online dating romance scams
According to the authorities, dating and romance scams are one of the
fastest-growing areas of fraud online. The FBI issued an official warning this
year, saying that women over 40 were particularly at risk.
You’re contacted online by someone who appears interested in you. He or
she may have a profile you can read or a picture that is emailed to you. For
weeks, even months, you may chat back and forth with one another, forming a
connection. You may even be sent flowers or other gifts. But ultimately,
it’s going to happen; your new-found “friend” is going to ask you for money.
Here’s how the FBI says the romance scam usually works.
Be aware of the following common techniques used by romance scammers:
- They ask you to start communicating by text or personal email, away from the original site you met on.
- Claims that your introduction was “destiny” or “fate,” especially early in communication or after just a few contacts or a short time, they profess their love or strong feelings for you.
- Claims to be from the U.S. but is currently living, working, or traveling abroad.
- Asks for money, goods, or any similar type of financial assistance or they indirectly/directly ask for money, gift cards, or funds to pay credit cards. If an online love interest you’ve never met in person asks you for money, that’s a scam. No matter what story they tell you.
- Asks for assistance with personal transactions (opening new bank accounts, depositing or transferring funds, shipping merchandise, etc.).
- After gaining your trust, they start telling you stories of bad luck or medical illnesses.
- Reports a sudden personal crisis and pressures you to provide financial assistance. Be especially wary if the demands become increasingly aggressive.
- Tells inconsistent or grandiose stories or their messages are poorly written and sometimes vague.
- Gives vague answers to specific questions.
- Claims to be recently widowed or claims to be a U.S. service member serving overseas.
- Disappears suddenly from the site then reappears under a different name using the same profile information.
- Their profile you read on the site might not match everything they tell you.
- They offer various excuses for why they can’t show you more photos of themselves.
- They delay meeting in person or talking with you on a video chat.
- When you do agree to meet, they cancel or postpone due to some emergency.
Romance Investment Scams
How it works: The scammer claims to have knowledge of cryptocurrency investment or trading opportunities that will result in substantial profits. The scammer directs you to a fraudulent website or application for an investment opportunity. After you invest an initial amount on the platform and see an alleged profit, the scammers allows you to withdraw a small amount of money, further gaining the your trust. The scammer will now ask you to invest larger amounts of money and may often express the need to "act fast." When you are ready to withdraw funds again, the scammers create reasons why this cannot happen. The scammer may say that there are additional taxes or fees need paid, or the minimum account balance has not been met to allow a withdrawal. This is an attempt to entice you to provide additional funds. Sometimes, a "customer service group" gets involved, which is also part of the scam. You are not able to withdraw any money, and the scammers most often stop communicating with you after they cease to send additional funds.
TIPS TO PROTECT YOURSELF:
- Never send money, trade, or invest per the advice of someone you have solely met online.
- Do not disclose your current financial status to unknown and untrusted individuals.
- Do not provide your banking information, Social Security Number, copies of your identification or passport, or any other sensitive information to anyone online or to a site you do not know is legitimate.
- If an online investment or trading site is promoting unbelievable profits, it is most likely that - unbelievable.
- Be cautious of individuals who claim to have exclusive investment opportunities and urge you to act fast.
Don’t be a victim, check out these tips and take them to heart:
- If you’re suspicious, Google the message text he/she sends you.
Unlike spam, dating scams require a fair amount of work from the criminals –
so they tend to cut corners. Often, the ‘romantic’ message you receive has
been sent to dozens of other people. Put quotes around it and Google it: if
it brings up results from former victims, you should start to worry. If the
messages are in broken English, but your lover claims to be American, it’s
another good reason to be cautious. Ask advice from a site administrator, or
- Don’t be ashamed to ‘play detective’. Millions of people
use dating sites, but they DO carry risks that normal dating does not. You
don’t know whether the person you are speaking to is real, where they’re
from, or whether the photos are them, or someone different. In the old days,
you would often meet people via friends of friends–but you don’t have this
reassurance online. So play detective. If they won’t tell you where they
work, worry. Likewise, if they keep asking questions about you, but never
answer any about themselves, worry. Search for them on LinkedIn, or just via
Google – it’s almost impossible NOT to leave traces online these days. If
someone has not, they probably are not real.
- Scammers posing as women will often claim that they are hard-working but in a lower paying profession. Scammers posing as males will often profess to be independently wealthy, the owners of a lucrative business, or in an occupation such as the military.
- Romance scammers profess love quickly. They might say they can’t meet you because they’re overseas for business or military service — but, during the pandemic, they might just say they’re locked down.
- Male scammers often claim to be widowers with one or more young children to look after. They may claim that their partner died after a tragic accident or illness leaving them unexpectedly as single fathers.
- If their photos are really glossy, be afraid. Oddly, one of
the giveaways that your lover may not be who they seem is that they look too
good–as in, the photographs are professional. Few normal people would make
this much effort–but for a cybercriminal, the easiest way to create a fake
profile is to use glamorous pictures from the web, shot by professional
Most cyber criminals do not use their own photographs; they use an image from another social media account as their own. A reverse image search can determine if a profile picture is being used elsewhere on the internet, and on which websites it was used. A search sometimes provides information that links the image with other scams or victims.To perform a reverse image search on profile photos:
Right click on the image and select “Search for image.”
Right click again and select “Save image as” to save the photo to your device.
Using a search engine, choose the small camera icon to upload the saved image into the search engine.
- Don’t hand over information bit by bit. Dating sites are a huge
growth area for cybercrime, and scams vary from simple cons, where people
are asked for money for visas, to classic phishing. The problem is that
handing over information is a normal part of romance–but perfect for
identity thieves. Until you have verified that the person is genuine, do not
give out your address, ever, and if possible limit other details such as
workplaces and contact details.
- Don’t share ‘racy’ photos with people you have not met. One
variation of today’s dating scams is a simple one – blackmail. Do not hand
over pictures you would be embarrassed to see published online–otherwise,
you’re at risk from blackmailers. Even racy messages can be a tool for
criminals – particularly if you’re attached. Keep things clean until you
know your ‘romance’ is real. Allowing someone to see you via webcam, or to,
for instance, undress on webcam, is particularly risky.
- If your ‘lover’ sends you a photo which you need to click on, worry.
Keep antivirus software running and be wary of profiles without images in
the first place. If they have an image, ask them to add it to their profile.
- Long-distance love DOES happen – but be wary. Profiles
without pictures, details and interests are a clear warning of a fake
profile. US law enforcement say that common signs are people who claim to be
American but say they are working abroad, then suddenly need plane fare
- Stick to reputable sites. Match.com and other ‘major’ sites
such as eHarmony have a reputation to protect so their systems will help to
keep you safe (accusations of fake profiles notwithstanding). On Match, for
instance, you can instantly flag any email or message as suspicious, and
flag any profile you think isn’t quite right. Match will investigate
rapidly. Other large, reputable sites have similar systems. Smaller,
specialist sites–particularly those focused on short-term
relationships–won’t offer the same peace of mind. However, sites which cater
to a particular cultural group may achieve higher levels of trust if they
fly under the radar of cyber criminals. Expect ‘Free’ sites to be the most
dangerous the barrier to entry is low for enterprising cybercriminals.
- Don’t be persuaded to switch to another social network, email or IM.
Millions of people use dating sites, and the ‘big’ sites are facing
epidemic levels of fake profiles, phishing and other scams, so
cybercriminals will often persuade victims to switch to another site,
either a social site, or simply email. This way, they can continue the
fraud in private.
- If you think, “It’s all happening so fast!” It’s time to worry. Dating
scams are one of the few areas of cybercrime where gangs play a ‘long game’
– sometimes stringing victims along for weeks or months. But most are
impatient to be paid - so any online ‘lover’ who declares undying love in
the space of a few emails should be regarded with extreme suspicion.
- Consistently poor spelling or grammar indicates that the language they are using may be the person’s second language even though they claim to be a born and bred resident of your country.
- If the person claims he or she is from your area, but states they are unable to meet you in person within the first few weeks of contacting you online, for whatever reason, be very cautious about revealing any personal details to them.
- If the other person is sharing information about themselves, be aware if details in their stories change. Did they call you by the wrong name, or suddenly refer to themselves by a different name? Often scammers are operating under multiple false aliases and are using a script to communicate with people, so they can inadvertently use the wrong names and details when communicating with you. If they do make such mistakes, the scammers will quickly come up with a story to explain the inconsistencies. But such errors should certainly be a warning flag.
- NEVER agree if the person asks you to use your own bank account to process checks or electronic money transfers for what ever reason. This may well be an attempt to launder the proceeds of crime.
- Be aware that scammers will ask lots of questions about what you believe to be your ideal relationship and then present themselves in that way to you.
- If friends or family express concern about the relationship, it is wise to heed their warnings. Often, others who are not so emotionally involved, are able to see indications that things are not as they seem and become rightfully suspicious of your online “friend’s” motives.
- NEVER purchase an airline ticket and fly to a foreign country to meet someone who has requested money from you. Victims who have taken such actions have been kidnapped and even murdered.
- Always tell family or friends if you are going to meet someone from a dating site and always meet first in a public place. Never meet at first in a private home or hotel where help is not close at hand should things go wrong.
- Do not send money, ever. The ‘red flag’ moment comes when
your ‘lover’ asks for money. Do not send it - whether it’s for flights, or for
life-saving surgery. Even if the story is so tragic you feel you HAVE to
help. If the subject of money comes up early in a relationship, be wary. If
someone asks outright for a Western Union payment, gift card, cryptocurrency, or bank wire transfer, you
may well be dealing with a criminal. Speak to a site administrator if
possible. Talk to a friend – or ask advice from an independent agency, or
local law enforcement.
If you do not send them money as requested, the requests will increase in urgency and the pressure they put on you will escalate accordingly. If this pressure does not work, they may change tack somewhat by asking for a much smaller amount than they originally requested. For example, they may claim that they have managed to source most of the money from elsewhere.
- Never send money or gifts to anyone you haven’t met in person — even if they send you money first. Only scammers tell you to buy gift cards, wire money, or buy cryptocurrency. And once you send that money, you won’t get it back.
- Never provide credit card numbers or bank account information without verifying the recipient’s identity.
- Never share your Social Security number or other personally identifiable information that can be used to access your accounts with someone who does not need to know this information.
Sextortion occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if their demands are not met. Most victims report the initial contact with the fraudster is mutual and made using dating websites and apps. Soon after the encounter, the fraudster requests the interaction be moved from the website or app to another messaging platform. The fraudster instigates the exchange of sexually explicit material and then encourages the victim to participate via video chat or send their own explicit photos. Immediately after the victim complies, the fraudster blackmails the victim and demands money to prevent the release of the photos or videos on social media. The fraudster often gains access to the victim's social media or contact information and threatens to send the images to the victim's family and friends.
- NEVER send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are or who they say they are.
- Do not open attachments from people you do not know. Links can secretly hack your electronic devices using malware to gain access to your private data, photos, and contacts, or control your web camera and microphone without your knowledge. Turn off your electronic devices and web cameras when not in use.
'Pig Butchering' Crypto Scam
- The scammer targets a victim on a dating app like Tinder, initiating a romantic relationship that’s exclusively online.
- Through online chats, a level of trust is established.
- Inevitably, the “lover” encourages their target to invest in cryptocurrency, commonly directing them to a fake website or app that is secretly controlled by the scammer.
- After the victim has agreed to invest some money in the phony platform, the lover disappears (along with the money) - never to be seen again.
- Once the victim starts getting skeptical or tries to withdraw their funds, they are often told that they have to pay tax on the gains before funds can be unlocked.
Here are some common elements of a pig butchering scam:
- Dating apps: Pig-butchering attempts are common on dating apps, but they can begin with almost any type of communication, including SMS text messages.
- WhatsApp: In virtually all documented cases of pig butchering, the target is moved fairly quickly into chatting with the scammer via WhatsApp.
- No video: The scammers will come up with all kinds of excuses not to do a video call. But they will always refuse.
- Investment chit-chat: Your contact (eventually) claims to have inside knowledge about the cryptocurrency market and can help you make money.
Here’s how to protect yourself:
- Never send money, trade, or invest based on the advice of someone you have only met online.
- Don’t talk about your current financial status to unknown and untrusted people.
- Don’t provide your banking information, Social Security Number, copies of your identification or passport, or any other sensitive information to anyone online or to a site you do not know is legitimate.
- If an online investment or trading site is promoting unbelievable profits, it is most likely that—unbelievable.
- Be cautious of individuals who claim to have exclusive investment opportunities and urge you to act fast.
Beware of Fraudulent Schemes Leveraging Cryptocurrency ATMs and QR Codes to Facilitate Payment
- Do not send payment to someone you have only spoken to online, even if you believe you have established a relationship with the individual.
- Do not follow instructions from someone you have never met to scan a QR code and send payment via a physical cryptocurrency ATM.
- Do not respond to a caller, who claims to be a representative of a company, where you are an account holder, and who requests personal information or demands cryptocurrency. Contact the number listed on your card or the entity directly for verification.
- Do not respond to a caller from an unknown telephone number, who identifies as a person you know and requests cryptocurrency.
- Practice caution when an entity states they can only accept cryptocurrency and identifies as the government, law enforcement, a legal office, or a utility company. These entities will likely not instruct you to wire funds, send checks, send money overseas, or make deposits into unknown individuals’ accounts.
- Avoid cryptocurrency ATMs advertising anonymity and only requiring a phone number or e-mail. These cryptocurrency ATMs may be non-compliant with US federal regulations and may facilitate money laundering. Instructions to use cryptocurrency ATMs with these specific characteristics are a significant indicator of fraud.
- If you are using a cryptocurrency ATM and the ATM operator calls you to explain that your transactions are consistent with fraud and advises you to stop sending money, you should stop or cancel the transaction.