The excitement of making a match on a dating app can disappear instantly when the person asks for money instead of dinner plans.
In 2018, more than 21,000 reports of romance scams were made to the Federal Trade Commission, adding up to a total loss of $143 million, according to a new report by the agency.
Scam artists use different tactics to gain a victim’s trust, but one of the most offensive may be pretending to be a member of the military looking for love while serving overseas.
It’s one that has popped up in Arizona, military and legal officials say.
What are romance scams?
According to the Better Business Bureau, romance scams are different than cat-fishing. While cat-fishing typically only involves deception, romance scam artists are intending to take money from a victim.
“We have seen a recent uptick, not only in Arizona but also across the country,” state Attorney General Mark Brnovich said.
This past summer, the state Attorney General’s Office helped return $14,000 to victims whose money was being transferred from Arizona to Ghana.
In August, an Arizona man was sentenced to more than 15 years for creating several profiles on dating sites to convince women to give him thousands of dollars for fraudulent investments.
Brnovich said there are many factors for why romance scams are common:
- Technology has made it easy to find victims.
- People want connections.
- People are trusting.
Is it a military romance?
Scam artists may try to make their victims believe they are in the military serving overseas and seeking a long-term relationship. A scammer may ask a victim for money for service-related needs such as transportation, communication or medical fees, according to the U.S. Army.
Brnovich said scam artists find ways to make their requests seem more plausible to victims.
“We all want to help our soldiers and troops,” he said.
Luke Air Force Base in Glendale has received phone calls from civilians asking if a person they have met online is really stationed there, according to Maj. Becky Heyse.
She said the Air Force base will look up the person’s name in its database to verify. If the person is not in the database, the civilian will be reminded to use good cybersecurity practices.
Brnovich said romance scams are terrible for all victims, but also affect service members.
“I think it is absolutely despicable,” he said. “They are our country’s best and brightest.”
Online-dating app Zoosk launched a verification program to protect all users, including military personnel. It uses an initiative called Insignia that shows a badge on the user’s profile letting others know they have been confirmed to be in the military.
Military personnel must upload documents and provide service details to Zoosk for proof.
The company warns users that there are signs to look out for when connecting with a new person.
One example of a message the company said a scammer may send is:
“Am currently on a military deployment in Liberia my last mission having a year to be back before I will relocate to the US also buying a house there soon and that will be a place where the woman I get along with on here will love to spend the rest of her life with me happily.”
How to protect yourself
In 2018, the median individual loss from a romance scam was reported as $2,600 to the Federal Trade Commission.
The U.S. Army and Zoosk say there are several red flags people should look out for when talking to someone online:
- They immediately ask for your contact information.
- They immediately ask you to communicate outside of the app or website.
- They immediately want a serious relationship.
- They ask you to stop talking to your friends and family.
- They are out of the country.
- They ask you for money for service-related items or medical needs.
- They claim to be a general officer.
- They ask you to request leave on their behalf.
- They need permission to get married.
A person can ultimately protect themselves by not sending money.
Brnovich said if a person thinks something is wrong, they need to do something. He advises:
- Use their profile picture to do a image search on Google.
- Copy and paste their profile bio into a search engine to find matches.
- Report it.
Often, victims don’t want to report being scammed because of embarrassment, according to attorney general spokeswoman Katie Conner. However, the state attorney general, Federal Trade Commission and the FBI can help if reports are made.
People can make reports to:
Reach the reporter at Lauren.Castle@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @Lauren_Castle.