Be forewarned. It’s February and Valentine’s Day is dead ahead. Scammers will be actively trying to cultivate new targets – professing love but asking for money before they disappear.
“The scammer’s intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself to the victim, and gain trust,” the FBI said in a press release. “Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. Eventually, they will ask for money.”
The internet is full of recent tales of heartbreak. An 83-year-old Indiana woman, who lost her husband in 2020, was the victim of a romance scam that not only broke her heart but stole $98 thousand from her.
Just last week a 43-year-old Canton, Mass., man pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of running serial romance and other scams that netted $1 million.
Jon Clay, vice president of Threat Intelligence at Trend Micro, says everyone using dating sites or participating in online forums should be aware of the telltale signs of a romance scam.
Can’t buy me love
“The biggest red flag is if they request money from you,” Clay told ConsumerAffairs. “Many scammers are simply looking to steal money from their victims, and they try to get the victim to feel sorry for their plight. Or they request money to pay for a trip to see them.”
Caroline Wong, the chief strategy officer at Cobalt, a technology firm, says scammers often use stock images from an online firm as their profile picture.
“A stock image for a profile picture and a generic biography is a red flag and a sign of a scammer,” she told us.
In Google Chrome, if you right-click on the photograph and select “copy image address” and paste it into the browser, you can see where it originated. If the file name ends with “Getty Images” or some other stock photo site, you’re dealing with a romance scammer.
Daniel Farber Huang, CEO at The Echostream Group, tells us most search sites have simple ways to reverse-engineer a photograph to find where it’s been used before.
“Reverse image searching will likely display other images that appear like the one you’re searching for,” he said. “Performing a reverse-image search using Google, Bing, or a less familiar site Tineye.com will search much of the internet for an image.”
Stay on the dating app
Daniel Holmes, fraud prevention SME at Feedzai, a firm combating financial fraud, says scammers will quickly try to move the communication with the target away from the dating app. That’s exactly what happened in the case of the Indiana widow, who traded hundreds of texts with the scammer.
Michael Steinbach, head of Global Fraud Prevention at Citi, is no stranger to the harmful results of romance scams.
“Online dating platforms can be great for finding romance, but it's crucial to be aware of the dangers of romance scams,” he told ConsumerAffairs. “If something seems off, listen to your head, not your heart.”
Steinbach also says that if you begin to suspect the online relationship is a scam, stop all contact immediately. If you are the victim of a romance scam, you can file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.