Human nature is kind and generous, especially toward people we care about. When somebody you care about asks you for help, you want to help as much as possible. This is exactly what romance scammers are hoping for when they begin chatting with you online.
It typically begins like any other online dating or socializing. Scammers will setup online accounts, approach users and post ads looking for love. Depending on how good the scammer is, these fake accounts can seem just as real as anybody else.
The initial conversation will seem normal — right up until they start telling you a story about why they need money. The Federal Trade Commission has estimated that people lost $220 million in 2016 to romance scams. Here are some signs of a scam:
•?Quick affection. If they say they love you after a few emails, be suspicious.
•?Foreign travel. If they claim to be American but are overseas for business or military service, be suspicious.
•?Personal contact. If they ask to have your personal email, phone number or address, be suspicious.
Depending on the scammer and your responsiveness, a typical romance scam will ask for money within a week to a month.
After a month of emailing somebody, you might feel like you really know them, but romance scammers have entire scripts of topics and conversations to string you along until they ask you for money. It might be a story about an emergency, hospital bills, or trouble traveling back home.
After they get your money, they are gone. If you resist giving them money, they will try to pressure you. They might appeal to your perceived affection or threaten you based on personal information they learned by talking to you.
These are some of the ways they will ask you to send money:
•?Money transfer. Western Union or bank account transfers.
•?Gift or pre-paid cards. Amazon, iTunes or Visa pre-paid credit/debit cards.
•?Calling cards. Buying new or refilling a pre-paid calling card.
Scammers use these ways to get money because they are very difficult to trace or reverse. Once a scammer gets your money, usually there is no way to get it back.
If someone you are talking to online starts asking for money, it is always safest to assume it is a scam.
Once an online contact begins asking for money, the best thing to do is to immediately stop communicating with them and block them — if possible. Do not give them the opportunity to try their romance scam or threaten you for money.
If you do get tricked into giving money, remain calm. While it can be embarrassing to be tricked, it is not your fault.
While it is unlikely you will get your money back, there are steps you can take to help law enforcement investigate the crime and try to stop the criminal.
•?File a complaint. The FBI accepts complaints about online crimes, which they use to track crime statistics and stop criminals. Report your scam to ic3.gov.
•?Online cleanup. The Federal Trade Commission accepts complaints about romance scams, which they share with law enforcement at different levels. They also provide instructions on what to do after you have been scammed. Access their resources at www.ftc.gov/complaint.
•?Secure accounts. If you gave the scammer any information about your bank accounts or credit/debit cards, make sure to put security alerts on those accounts and issue new cards.
•?Social/dating accounts. In addition to blocking the user, report the scammer’s social media or dating website account to the site owner, so they can review and delete the account to prevent others from falling victim to their scams. While the scammer can always make a new account, websites can track their information and prevent similar accounts from being created.
Romance scams are personal, which is why they are often so effective and not reported by victims. Being aware of the types of scams criminals use will help you stay safe online.