Romance scams: what are they and how to avoid them?

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Let’s start with this friendly reminder: anyone can fall victim to an online scam. While technology has evolved incredibly fast and made our lives easier in countless ways, so have scams. Fraudsters are getting more and more creative in using web applications, exploring cybersecurity flaws, and seizing any open opportunity to scam more netizens.

Using phishing emails, fake websites, and even COVID-19 related information, scammers are relentless in their pursuits. Previously, we’ve looked at the main types of online scams and how to avoid them, but today we’ll take a closer look at a specific type: online romance scams, also known as online dating scams, or simply love scams.

The Federal Trade Comission reports that, in 2020 alone, romance scams have caused losses of $304 million – a big increase in comparison with 2019. So, while it’s safe to say that romance scams are increasing, the good news is that there are things you can do to stay clear of them.

Let’s get to it!

What are online romance scams?

Romance scams are fraudulent schemes where perpetrators use dating apps or social media platforms to find potential victims. In most cases, taking advantage from someone for financial gain is the main purpose. In that regard, romance scams aren’t much different from other types of internet scams.

But how do online romance scams work, and what sets them apart from other types?

The usual M.O. is that they will impersonate someone who’s looking for a relationship. They’ll then establish a connection with someone else, gain their trust, pretend to be romantically interested in them, and proceed to make some sort of monetary demand – money transfers and payments – or even blackmailing them.

Most of the time, romance scams involve convincing the victim to send money to the scammer with an elaborate story or excuse behind it, such as money needed for an emergency health treatment.

However, It could also entail tricking people into sharing personal and financial information, or data that will either be used against them (in the case of blackmail) or eventually used in other fraudulent activities.

Signs of a romance scammer

To avoid a romance scam, being able to catch tell-tale signs are key. Here are some red flags to be considered:

  1. Their profile, including pictures and bio, just doesn’t seem realistic
  2. Their bio and messages have grammar mistakes
  3. They are hasty
  4. They are always reluctant to engage on a phone or video call
  5. There’s always some obstacle to meet in person (e.g., they are currently in another country), and eventual arrangements to meet are never fulfilled due to some related excuse
  6. They are often in some kind of difficulty where they need your help (e.g., a medical treatment)
  7. And, of course, there’s almost always a request for money involved, with specific payment methods.

The last sign, with regards to money transfers and payments, is especially important to take note of: scammers will often choose methods that are hard to cancel or revert (e.g., a gift card).

We all have our intuition to rely on when something doesn’t feel right. But, in any case, these examples are important to keep in mind. If one (or all) of these signs are present, you should consider them as a strong scam indicator.

If you’re unsure, there are always questions you can ask a potential scammer to appease suspicions. Anything that does not add up, be it related to their location, job, profile picture, or the avoidance to meet in person should be enough reason to ask. Pay close attention to their reply. If the answer is not satisfactory, consider the possibility that you’re dealing with an active romance scam.

Examples of romance scams

Romance scams may have different types, but tell-tale sign #5 (avoidance to meet in person) is a crucial factor .

In such cases, scammers associate themselves with a specific profession they can use to both add credibility to their story and use as an excuse to never meet.

One of the most common examples is where the person claims to be in the military, often deployed overseas, and for that reason the meeting becomes impossible. While the “military romance scam” is one of the most frequent, these fake professions could be anything that offers a credible account of an international job placement: doctors working in humanitarian organizations, workers of multinational companies, etc.

How to avoid online romance scams

We’ve covered possibly the most important information you need to know about romance scams: how to identify them. In order to avoid falling victim, however, there are a few rules that everyone should remember:

  • Never send money to someone you don’t know or haven’t met before. This rule applies to all other types of scams too.
  • Do some background check where possible to see if the person is telling the truth: ask for and check their social media profiles, verify if their picture really belongs to them, etc.
  • Do not share private / personal information, such as pictures, personal identification, financial information, or anything that can be used by the scammer against you.
  • Ask for the opinion of people that you rely on (family, friends, etc.). They might be able to catch red flags as well.
  • When it comes to dating apps and relationships with people you’ve only met online, proceed with caution and take it slowly, always.
  • And, finally, report the scammer if you have enough reason to do so. On to the next section!

How to report romance scams

Apart from red flags and how to avoid romance scams, it’s crucial to know how to properly report them. There are different ways to do this:

  • First, the platform that is being used by the scammer should be immediately notified. Most of these sites, apps and social media platforms have a “report” feature where such activities can be flagged, and in most cases you can also provide a reason why you’re taking such action. In that case, the team behind the platform is going to check the claim. If the scammer is using another company – let’s say, for instance, a gift card service – then this company should be notified too.
  • Second, if an actual money transfer was carried out, it is critical to get in touch with your bank or money transfer provider at once and report the incident. Financial institutions have many practices and guidelines in place to deal with such scams.
  • Last but not least: if you have been a victim of cybercrime (in this case, an online romance scam), you should report it to the authorities as soon as possible.

At Ria Money Transfer, we’re always working with the latest compliance technology and regulations to mitigate scams and defrauding attempts by cybercriminals. In our Fraud Awareness page, you will find information on how to contact our fraud department, as well as many other valuable resources on this matter, including a list of relevant authorities that should be contacted about these situations.

And there you have it! We hope we’ve helped to provide more information on this subject, but please remember: this article is meant only as an overview to raise awareness about the topic, does not cover every aspect of it, and should not be considered as advice or used as a replacement for professional / legal advice in this matter.

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