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Valentine’s Day is coming – and that means the romance scammers are gearing up for another successful season of theft and heartache.
Years of online dating, not to mention pandemic loneliness, has seen an alarming increase in vulnerable people being left with broken hearts, promises and empty wallets when scammed by romance thieves.
The recent blockbuster true-crime documentary, Tinder Swindler, currently trending on Netflix, gives an eye-popping view of the devastation romance scams cause to susceptible people looking for love with a swipe to the right.
The documentary follows the evil antics of one Shimon Hayut (also known as Simon Leviev) who posed as a wealthy diamond billionaire and, by using the popular Tinder online dating app, scammed dozens of victims out of millions of dollars.
These women fell hard for the charms of this diabolical criminal – and didn’t know it, until they were in too deep. Although not commenting on the documentary, Tinder has now taken unprecedented steps to offer new guidelines on recognizing romance scams and how users can protect themselves.
Thanks to the bravery of some of the women, Hayut was arrested and, naturally, banned from Tinder.
Romance scams are not new, but their power is growing. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the reported costs of online romance scams jumped 50% from 2019 to 2020, to the tune of $304 million. The volume of reported cases tripled between 2016 to 2020, while reported losses nearly quadrupled.
Online romance scams are not only becoming more common, but they’re also becoming more costly.
The RCMP reports that in 2020 alone, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre documented Canadians lost over $18.5 million to scammers, with the Centre receiving close to 1,000 complaints related to these scams. “Using fake profiles on social media, and through popular dating apps, scammers would gain the trust of their victims over a period of time before stealing an average of $28,000 per victim,” notes the RCMP website (rcmp-grc.gc.ca).
These scams aren’t limited to online dating apps and sites, either. According to McAfee, a global leader in online safety, they also happen on social media and in online games as well. However, the FTC reports that the scam usually starts the same way, typically through an unexpected friend request or a message that comes out of the blue.
Scammers are smooth operators and use a variety of ploys to lure victims in, including exotic yet believable storytelling. According to McAfee (mcafee.com), reports say “scammers will talk of being workers on an offshore oil rig, members of military stationed overseas, doctors working with an international organization, or working in the sort of jobs that would prevent them from otherwise easily meeting up in person.”
Once a relationship is “established” the scammer starts working immediately on the vulnerability of the victim, and the theme always seems to involve some sort of hardship – medical expenses, money for food, clothing for children – being real heart-tuggers.
Here’s the thing: it’s hard to be vigilant when one is vulnerable. And love is an extremely powerful emotion. Sadly, the older a person is, the more susceptible they are to such scams. Romance scammers can spot prey the moment a person responds to a friend request. They know how to set the right trap. The key is making sure all the red flags and warning signs are addressed before moving forward.
Keep in mind, scammers may be heartless, but they’re still human – and they can trip up easily. Pay attention to details such as dates and timelines. Scammers may be working several victims at the same time, and may confuse them. And the moment they ask for money, even if they’ve sent you money (as bait), cut off all ties and protect all your online devices immediately.
Lastly, if you’re a victim, go easy on yourself. Know you’re not the first, nor the last to be taken advantage of this way. By reporting your case, you in fact may help others from falling victim too.
Your new romantic interest sends you a picture that looks more like a model from a fashion magazine than an ordinary snapshot.
The person quickly wants to leave the dating website and communicate with you through email or instant messaging.
He or she lavishes you with attention. Swindlers often inundate prospective marks with texts, emails and phone calls.
Report a suspected online scam immediately to your local and national authorities.
Protecting Yourself Online
Romance scammers troll social media and reach out through a direct message or friend request. With that, there are three things you can do to cut down your chances of getting scammed:
- Go private: Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and others give you the option of making your profile and posts visible to friends only. Choosing this setting keeps the broader internet from seeing what you’re doing, saying, and posting, which can help protect your privacy and give a romance scammer less information to exploit.
- Say “no” to strangers bearing friend requests: Be critical of the invitations you receive. Strangers could be more than a romance scammer, they could be a fake account designed to gather information on users for purposes of cybercrime, or they can be an account designed to spread false information.
- Protect yourself and your devices: Security software can protect you from clicking on malicious links that a scammer may send you online, while also steering you clear of other threats like viruses, ransomware, and phishing attacks in general.