Fraudsters are prowling online dating sites in their search for people to scam, according to the FBI.
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More than 18,000 people complained to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, last year to say they were victims of romance fraud. They lost a combined $362 million, the IC3 said this week. That was up by 70 percent from the losses reported in 2017.
In an effort to help people avoid becoming victims, the IC3 shared details of how the scam works and what online daters can do to protect themselves.
The scammer starts by gaining the victim’s trust, authorities said. It can take months. Many of them claim to be a U.S. citizen located overseas, such as a member of the military or a business owner.
Eventually, the fraudulent dater may ask for gifts, or ask for money supposedly for travel to meet the victim, authorities said. In some cases, scammers have even claimed that wired funds never arrived and asked victims to send money again. Other times, they’ve claimed they never showed up to meet because they were arrested, and they ask for more money to post bail or recover seized items. The scammers will keep asking for more money as long as it keeps coming.
Some of the victims have even been groomed as “money mules,’ the IC3 said. The scammers trick them into transferring money illegally on behalf of others.
How to protect yourself
After meeting someone online, the IC3 said to run a reverse image search on their photo. Several websites can search the internet to see where else an image has appeared before, including TinEye and even Google. Do the search results add up with what the person has claimed?
The FBI said to never send money to someone met online, never provide credit card numbers or bank account information without verifying the recipient’s identity and never share a Social Security number or other personal information.
Be wary of anyone you meet online, as they could be misrepresenting themselves. Here are some common red flags, according to the IC3:
- Immediate requests to talk via email or an outside messaging service,
- Claims it was “destiny” or “fate” that you met early in communication,
- Claims to be from the U.S. but living abroad or recently widowed,
- Requests for money, goods or other financial assistance,
- Requests for help with opening a bank account, depositing or transferring funds, shipping merchandise, etc.,
- Stories of a sudden personal crisis,
- Inconsistent or grandiose stories,
- Vague answers to specific questions and
- Profiles that suddenly disappear but then reappear under a different name.
Anyone who believes they’re a victim of a romance scam can report it to the IC3 online here, or to their local FBI field office. Authorities said they should also contact their financial institutions immediately to stop or reverse any transactions and ask where the suspicious transfer was sent.