FBI warns against romance fraud, sextortion


Recent editions of the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment examined building a digital defense against romance fraud and sextortion.

For some people, looking for love online can bring a lifetime of roses and long walks on the beach. But for others, the seemingly perfect boyfriend or girlfriend ends up being perfectly horrible.

Romance fraud

Anyone can fall victim to this scammer, but most commonly he is going to target women over 40 who are widowed, divorced or disabled. It usually starts with an innocent-enough-sounding contact online. He’s likely been watching your social media accounts or gleaned info out of an online dating profile. Amazingly, he likes what you like — whether that’s books, music, sports or whatever. Over time, he starts communicating with you by email or text. He starts calling, and you have long conversations about your life, your future, and your love.

And then comes the kicker – he asks you for money. It may take weeks or months to get to this point, but just know that he needs the money desperately. He needs it to finish a job so he can come see you. He needs to buy a plane ticket. He is in the military and getting ready to retire or relocate, but he needs cash for moving expenses. Business partners are trying to steal his company and he must hire a lawyer.

There is always some urgent need – and then another and another. He promises to pay you back soon, but he never does.

Sometimes he is traveling overseas and cannot cash a check. He will send it to you to ask you to cash it and wire the money back to him. Maybe the check is bogus, or illegal proceeds that you have now laundered for him.

It’s hard to give up on the love of your life and the future he promised you, but this fraudster won’t stop until you do. So what are some warning signs to watch for? Be wary if:

* He presses you to leave a dating website where you met to communicate solely through email or instant messaging.

* He sends you a photo that looks like a glamour shot out of a magazine.

* He professes love quickly.

* He claims to be working and living far away — whether that’s on the other side of the country or overseas.

* Makes plans to visit you but then always has to cancel because of some emergency.

* He asks for money or your help moving money.

Bottom line: never ever send money to someone you met online. The chance that you will ever get your money back is almost zero. Whether you lose just a few thousand dollars or your entire retirement account the results can be devastating.

Online dating can lead to life-long relationships, but go into it with your eyes open and make sure to use and dating websites with nationally known reputations.

If you have been victimized by this scam or any other online scam, report your suspicious contacts to the FBI. You can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.


Sextortion cases involve something much darker. In addition to asking for money, an extortionist will likely demand that you provide sexual favors or that you send him explicit photos or videos of yourself.

So how does it all start? The fraudster may be an old boyfriend, or, more likely, a distant acquaintance or stranger. He possesses something very private — photos or information that would embarrass you if he releases them. If you don’t comply with his demands, he says, then your family, friends and classmates will know your deepest secrets.

How did he get the information to blackmail you? In some cases, he recorded or obtained recordings of sexually explicit content that the victim shared in what was thought to be a private video chat. In other cases, the extortionist compromised your phone or computer with malware. He now has access to anything you have stored. He may also be able to remotely activate your camera to take photos and videos of you anywhere anytime.

If you find yourself caught in this situation, do not give into his demands. He will continue to harass you as long as you continue to follow through… and every compromising photo or video you give him will only add to his collection with which he can blackmail you.

Contact law enforcement and put an end to his unlawful behavior. It you are a minor, talk to a parent, teacher or counselor right away so they can help you report this criminal.

To avoid falling prey to a sextortionist:

* Never send compromising photos or videos of yourself to anyone — whether you know them or think you know them.

* Do not open attachments from people you don’t know. Clicking on an unsolicited attachment or link can download malware onto your device.

* Turn off your electronic devices and physically block web cameras when you are not using them.


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