Stay Safe Online: Avoid Romance Scams

Stay Safe Online: Avoid Romance Scams, Romance scams are usually initiated online & often prey on vulnerable people. Scammers create fake online profiles and attempt to build phony emotional attachments until a potential victim is comfortable sending them money.

Victims can be both men & women. Most times, the criminal targets older people and those who may be struggling in a relationship and/or are emotionally vulnerable. Though most scammers aim for vulnerable targets, affluent and well-educated individuals have also fallen victim to these type of scams. In general, these scams have the potential to affect everyone.

Criminals do extensive research on potential victims, looking through social media and dating sites for posts divulging information about their lives and personalities. They are expert manipulators and use these open, personal posts against the victim, cultivating them over a long period of time. Victims feel there is a real connection, romantic interest, and become invested in the online relationship. The internet provides anonymity, allowing criminals unlimited time trolling for potential victims hoping someone will take the bait.

Criminals often claim to be wealthy, or from affluent, prominent families, with business interests requiring they travel extensively outside the country. Scammers try to establish a relationship very quickly, gain their victim’s trust, and sometimes propose marriage. When victims attempt to meet them, the scammers never show up and always have excuses.

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Once trust is gained the scammers ask for money. This request could be to pay for a medical emergency or legal fee for themselves or another member of their family, or to help build their business with a promise to repay the loan immediately when they return from traveling. The victim never sees repayment and the scammer will continue asking for more money.

Victims are often reluctant to report the crime because they are embarrassed and humiliated that they were duped and have become emotionally and financially invested in the relationship. Not only does this cause victims to send money to scammers, but they also can fall victim to other schemes. The intimate and personal information victims often provide can then be used for identity fraud and financial account takeover schemes, among others. Scammers may even convert their victims into unwitting criminals by convincing them to launder and move fraudulent funds, which the victim is then liable for both financially and potentially criminally.

This scam is not purely romance-based, as there are many instances of this fraud in false job/work from home schemes. Scammers will contact potential victims through LinkedIn and other job sites, establish trust based on an employer/employee relationship then exploit the victims in the same pattern as romance scams.

This is a difficult crime to prove and investigate as many of these scammers are overseas – Nigeria predominantly. These scammers are not lone-wolf operators, they operate in organized enterprise fraud rings using complex techniques. These scammers have been known to also spoof phone numbers and hire actors to communicate with the victims via phone to further establish the ill-derived trust.

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