Romance or sweetheart scams trick people all year round, but they are particularly effective leading up to Valentine’s Day because they prey on people’s yearning for love. Romance scams remain in the top ten scams of 2020, with over 23,000 victims reporting $605 million in losses, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
You may be familiar with Bravo’s mini-series, Dirty John, a dramatization of the real-life events of how a serial con man married a wealthy and successful interior designer after only two months of dating. The two met through an over-50 dating web site, and had a whirlwind romance that ends in a dark and deadly place. Now, that may be more the extreme outcome, but between relationship sites like Match.com, eHarmony, Tinder, and even social media networks, there are more online options to navigate than ever before. And, just like Dirty John, this also means today’s scammer has increased opportunities to lure lonely singles into a web of deceit, not just stealing hearts but conning them out of money.
Fraud at First Site
There are several ways that sweetheart swindlers trick their victims. One of the quickest ways is through phishing messages, where the recipient will click on a link that downloads malware onto their device. This allows the fraudster to gain remote access to personal information, online accounts, and passwords — essentially any data on your device.
A more modern approach, known as catfishing, is when scammers build online relationships with their unsuspecting suitor. Some will go so far as to chat “in person” on the telephone, but likely never via webcam. Once they are certain their victim is committed, the Fake Romeo (or Juliette) will present a phony reason why they need money. All too often, after pulling on their heartstrings, people are coerced into sending them cash, checks, or gift cards.
Red Flags: How to Spot a Thief of Hearts
While you may be feeling the squeeze around Valentine’s Day, it’s never a good idea to rush into a relationship, especially a digital one. Here are some signs that your newfound chemistry may be a charade:
- You can’t find any evidence of them existing outside of their dating profile
- They will never agree to get together in person, using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse
- They become overly personal too quickly, or hint at stories of financial hardship
- He or she lives in another country or too long of a distance away for a feasible relationship
You’re Too Good to Be True
Like most scams, if an online romance seems too good to be true, it probably is. Sadly, many of these crimes go unreported because victims are too embarrassed that they fell for such a scheme and let their feelings get in the way of logic.
No matter how much you think you can trust someone, never share personal or financial information before a legitimate, interpersonal relationship exists. Be your own Valentine this year and treat yourself to peace of mind with IdentityForce’s best identity theft protection.
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