Romance scams are different from other scams. They prey on people looking to connect with someone, and can often take months to develop to the point where money changes hands. Emotional harm to the victim can be even more painful than the monetary loss.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans reported losing nearly $1.3 billion in romance-related fraud from 2017 to 2021. But, because most people do not file complaints about romance scams, this may be the tip of the iceberg. At IAACU, we’ve seen members become victims of these types of scams. Please read on to learn the warning signs of these online dating dangers!
Anatomy of a Romance Scam
Experts identify several distinct stages of the scam:
Romance scammers use dating websites, apps, Facebook, and other social media. Many use stolen credit cards to join the sites and post fake profiles. They meet victims, interact with them, and quickly try to get them to move to a different form of communication such as email or texting. This way, if the dating site identifies the scammer as being bogus and shuts them down, they are already in contact with their victims elsewhere. The scammers will often make fake Facebook pages for their aliases to help bolster their fake identity. In addition to fake social media accounts, scammers are also savvy at creating authentic-looking fake IDs. Warning...if a person is too quick to share his or her ID, it is more likely to be fake.
This is when the fraudster learns about the victim’s life and builds trust. This stage can go on for months. It may include daily texts or messages. Some scammers even send flowers and small gifts. This is also when scammers may request small favors. This can help them test how open a victim ultimately may be to helping when an “emergency” pops up and the scam kicks into high gear.
The grooming process also focuses on isolating victims from their friends and families, so they don’t have help when making decisions. The scammers will convince victims that their friends and families have questionable motives to criticize the scammer.
The scammer will finally ask for money; usually, for an emergency, business problem, or plane ticket to finally meet. If the victim sends money, the scammer will find ways to keep asking for more. These scams can also be dangerous. Sometimes a scam may result in identity theft or involuntary involvement in money laundering. In other cases, victims have been used as couriers for smuggling drugs, money, or other goods.
The fraud continues
Even if targets realize they have been victims of a scam, the fraud may continue with a new scam pretending to help them get their money back. A fake law enforcement official may reach out to say the scammer has been caught and the victims can get their money – if they spend several thousand dollars in fees. The original scammer will also sometimes reach out and admit that the “relationship” started as a scam but then claim they actually fell in love. And the cycle continues.
There are laws that can be used to prosecute scammers. In some cases, electronic-theft and economic-espionage statutes can be applied, and in others, statutes called Access Device Fraud can be used. However, it takes more than the legal framework. Individuals need to be sufficiently warned and aware of the nature, scope, and breadth of romance scams.
Originally published by BBB & the Wall Street Journal, adapted by IAACU.