Did you know that “romance scammers” were a real thing? Even the FBI is involved, mainly because the crime is considered Internet fraud and regular people are losing thousands of dollars every day to online scammers who are outwardly looking for love, but in reality, are just looking for an easy payday.
Data collected from 2016 puts the amount lost at more than $230 million…and those were just the reported losses. Because the relationships formed are of a more intimate nature, not everyone comes forward to report it. Here are five steps you can take to protect yourself against these online dating scams and what to do if you fall victim to a romance scammer.
The easiest thing to do when trying to establish trust with someone you’ve met online is to do a simple Google search of his or her name and their photograph. You can use a reverse-image search engine such as Google Images to plug in their online or dating website profile picture.
Just Googling someone’s name should also lead you to their social media presence, LinkedIn profile, and other details that can either verify or raise a red flag about that particular person. If anything seems amiss or if the info you find online does not match up with what the person is telling you, you might want to run the other way.
Is the person expressing strong emotions for you in a relatively short period of time? If so, beware. Dating and romance scammers will move quickly to gain your trust and get you vested emotionally as fast as they can. Beware of moving too quickly when it comes to an online relationship because they are most likely just waiting to ask you for money, credit card numbers, or other personal information that can be compromised (think social security numbers, driver license numbers, etc.). Just remember that you can’t really be in love with someone you’ve never met, regardless of how wonderful they may seem in online chats.
Is the person insisting they need the money because it’s an emergency situation? This is also a very common ploy for these romantic scammers. They will insist that a family member has some sort of medical emergency, that a friend needs bail money, or they need money for some other emergency, and they need it now. By creating an urgency, they are hoping that you will act before thinking and send them the money without asking too many questions.
It may be prudent to run the entire situation by someone you really trust before sending money in a hasty moment. Often, we are too emotionally invested in our relationships to see any warning signs; ask a close friend or family member to listen to your story and advise you on what to do. They may have a clearer head and can point out any red flags to you.
All scammers typically behave the same, so watch out for the following behaviors: they insist on moving the conversation of the initial dating site and want to use a more personal, private method of communicating such as text or email; they may continuously ask for odd personal information such as your location or if you have an inheritance; they may exhibit erratic or strange behavior if you do not agree to their requests; often their spelling or grammar may be suspect, especially if their profiles specify that they are college educated. If you notice any of these behaviors, think twice before pursuing a relationship with this person.
If the person seems legit and you want to meet him or her, it might be worth the effort to hire a private investigator to verify that the person really is who he or she says they are. This is especially true if you have any plans to meet up in person – you can never be too careful when it comes to the Internet, especially if you are using a dating website. With the number of romance scammers growing by the day, a private detective can provide much better background research than Google can.
New York private investigator Darrin Giglio says, “Don’t fall victim to an internet predator. A private investigator has access to many more resources than the average citizen so that you do not get taken advantage of. A good PI can help you from making a huge mistake by vetting the person thoroughly.”
All in all, guard your heart and your wallet when it comes to dating sites, developing online romances, or even finding friends on social media sites. If you do become a victim of an online scammer, report it immediately to the Internet Crime Complaint Center on the FBI’s website. You should also report the scammer to the site on which you met so they can also take appropriate actions. The bottom line is that your safety, your heart, and your money need to be well protected at all times in this Internet age.