Special Agent Vicki Anderson-Gregg
February 9, 2021
Has the foreign prince you have been talking to online stolen both your heart and your identity? Think you have a fishing date with your dream person, only to have been catfished? Instead of falling in love, you’ve fallen prey to romance scams.
Romance scams or confidence scams, can break your heart and your bank account. A confidence/romance scam can happen to anyone at any time. A confidence/romance scam is when a perpetrator deceives a victim into believing the perpetrator and the victim have a trusting relationship, whether family, friendly, or romantic. As a result of that belief, the victim is persuaded to send money, send personal or financial information, send items of value to the perpetrator, or launder money on behalf of the perpetrator.
Confidence/romance scams have resulted in one of the highest amounts of financial losses when compared to other Internet-facilitated crimes. In 2020, over 23,000 victims reported over $605,000,000 in losses, as compared to over 12,500 victims and over $203,000,000 in losses in 2015.
Individuals looking for love and companionship are the target victims of this type of online fraud. The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do. They spend hours honing their skills and sometimes keep journals on their victims to better understand how to manipulate and exploit them. The scammers often watch social media accounts or glean information from an online dating profile. Amazingly, the scammer often likes what their victim likes, shares the same hobbies, the same interests, the same books, etc. Over time, the scammer increases communication with their victim through email, texts, phone calls, etc.
Scammers use poetry, flowers, and other gifts to reel in victims, all while declaring their “undying love”. These criminals often use stories of severe life circumstances, tragedies, deaths in the family, injuries to themselves, other hardships to keep their victims concerned and involved in their schemes. Scammers then often ask victims to send money to help them overcome a financial situation they claim to be experiencing. These are all lies intended to take money from unsuspecting victims.
The best defense of confidence/romance scams is education and awareness to deter individuals from falling victim to these scams.
Here are some tips to help avoid becoming a victim:
- Be careful what you post because scammers can use that information against you.
- Only use dating websites with national reputations, but assume that con artists are trolling even the most reputable sites.
- Go slow and ask questions.
- Research the individual’s pictures and profile using other online search tools to ensure someone else’s profile was not used or to see if that same pitch is being used on multiple victims at once.
- Be leery if the individual sends you a photo that looks like it is out of a magazine.
- Be leery if the individual professes love quickly.
- Be leery if the individual tries to isolate you from family and friends.
- Be leery if the individual claims to be working and living far away, whether that is on the other side of the country or overseas.
- Be leery if the individual makes plans to visit you, but always cancels because of some emergency.
- RED FLAG: If the individual asks you for money or gift cards. Never send money, even via gift cards, to someone you met online and have not met in person. It may take weeks or months for the perpetrator to get to the point of asking for money, they are most often communicating with several victims at once, so they can go slow.
- The individual may ask for your help in moving money. Never help anyone move money through your own account or another’s, you could become an unwitting money mule. This means you are laundering money; which is illegal!
- The individual asks you to send compromising photos or videos of yourself or asks for your financial information. Never send anything that can later be used to blackmail you. If you give out your information, you are responsible for how it is used.
- If you plan to meet someone in person that you have met online, the FBI recommends using caution, do not travel alone, and check the State Department’s Travel Advisories before arranging any travel. Individuals should know that some victims that have agreed to meet in person with an online love interest have been reported missing, injured, and, in one instance, deceased.
If you are a victim of a romance scam, or believe you have been victimized by an online fraud, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov. We recognize that it may be embarrassing for victims to report this type of scam because they are intensely personal. However, we ask victims to come forward so the FBI can ensure these online imposters are stopped and brought to justice.