BBB Warns Romance Scammers Seek to Steal Money and Some Trick Victims into Committing Crime

January 30, 2017

Over half of all Americans participated in Valentine’s Day and spent an estimated $20 million to mark the holiday in 2016. That money is spent primarily on significant others but also on children, parents, co-workers and even pets. Better Business Bureau® serving Eastern Oklahoma warns consumers to be wary of scammers who may attempt to make it on your list of gift recipients via a romance scam.

In 2015 the FBI reported a loss of more than $203 million by 12,509 self-reported victims. The amount of romance scams, also known as confidence fraud, reported in 2015 more than doubled from the previous year. While the number of victims affected is not overwhelming, the amount of money lost is the second highest grossing type of crime. The FBI also believes these figures are just the tip of the iceberg as they estimate only 10% of victims file a report through the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). It seems scammers aren't only satisfied with stealing money they've also begun to involve unsuspecting targets in their crime. 

Romance Scams

How the Scam Works

Romance scams start with fake profiles on social media, dating sites or dating apps. They may not seem suspicious, but usually, they include images and personal details stolen from a real person's profile. Scammers often claim they reside overseas and can’t meet in person. Often scammers pretend to be military members to make themselves seem trustworthy. Over time, they begin to build a relationship with their target by writing them romantic messages, sharing photos, or supposed details about their family. Some victims reported being introduced to the scammer's child. Before you know it, you care about and trust this person. That’s usually when they or their child need money for a health issue, school event or travel expenses.

A recent version of the scam includes involving targets in online banking fraud. Scammers persuade their sweetheart to set up a bank account into which they transfer stolen money. They then ask their victim to wire the money out of the country. Typically, the requests continue once a fraudster has successfully received money or convinced you to transfer money.

BBB Shares these tips for guarding against romance scams:

  1. Protect your identity and your wallet. The most important tip, never send money or any personal information to someone you’ve never met in person. Visiting with someone via video message doesn’t mean they’re not a scammer. Also, be cautious not reveal any personal information or do anything you may regret later when using video messaging. Some scammer use software to record video calls and then use it to extort money from victims.
  2. Think before going from public to private. Be hesitant if the conversation moves from a monitored site like social media or a dating site to a more private form of communication like email or instant messaging. This strategy might be a way for the scammer to draw you in without other people interfering.
  3. Do your research. Pour over the profile image and description and if it sounds too good to be true check it out. You can copy portions of their biography and enter it in your favorite search engine. Often scammers will use the same details across multiple sites to trick multiple people at once, only changing the name occasionally. Scammers often reuse profile pictures similarly. Reverse image search is one way to use their profile picture to assure they aren’t duping you.
  4. Ask for details and get specific. Request further forms of identification like a photo of them holding their username. Ask them specific questions about the details given in their profile. Often the text is recycled, and they don't know any specific details about the places they claim to have been or the things they pretend to enjoy. If they say they are a military member, ask for their official military email address as they all end with Scammers will likely make excuses for why they can’t provide you with one.
  5. Pay attention to how they communicate. Pay attention to bad grammar and misspelled words. True, plenty of people make mistakes when they’re communicating quickly but, if mistakes are often repeated, it may point to an accent or show they aren’t from where they claim. Also, be on guard if they begin using pet names or discussing marriage too soon.

If you’ve fallen for one of these scams, it’s unlikely you’ll get your money back. If you come across someone claiming they can help you recover your money for a small fee, it may be the scammer coming back for a second pass. Here’s what you can do:

  • If you paid with a credit card, contest the charges immediately. Alert your financial institutions immediately that your accounts may be at risk.
  • Monitor your accounts for any questionable transactions and dispute those quickly.

File a Complaint with BBB Scam Tracker, IC3, and the Federal Trade Commission.