Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching and many people are looking for love, as Johnny Lee sang in the old movie “Urban Cowboy”, “in all the wrong places.”. Looking for love and romance are basic human drives and scammers take advantage of this with numerous romance scams. Most of these online dating and romance scams involve some variation of the person you meet through an online dating site quickly falling in love with you and then, under a wide variety of pretenses, asking for money. According to recent FBI statistics, this scam is getting worse with twice as many people becoming victims of romance scams in 2016 compared to 2014 at a cost of almost 230 million dollars. In addition, it is highly likely that the number of actual victims of this type of scam is understated because many victims fail to report that they have been swindled due to embarrassment.
Romance scams are not limited to the United States, but are perpetrated worldwide. Recent figures from Hong Kong show the incidents of romance scams have also increased dramatically in the past year. Last October a joint operation of Hong Kong, Malaysian and Singaporean law enforcement arrested 52 people involved in an international online romance scam in which millions of dollars were stolen from their victims.
There are various red flags to help you identify romance scams. I describe many of them in detail in my book “The Truth About Avoiding Scams.” The most important thing to remember is to always be skeptical of anyone who falls in love with you quickly online without ever meeting you and early into the relationship who then asds you to wire money to assist them with a wide range of phony emergencies.
Here are a few other things to look for to help identify a romance scam. Often their profile picture is stolen from a modeling website on the Internet. If the picture looks too professional and the person looks too much like a model, you should be wary. Particular phrases, such as “Remember the distance or color does not matter, but love matters a lot in life” is a phrase that turns up in many romance scam emails. Also be on the lookout for bad spelling and grammar as many of the romance scammers claim to be Americans, but are actually foreigners lying about where they are and who they are. Of course you should be particularly concerned if someone falls in love with you almost immediately. Often they will ask you to use a webcam, but will not use one themselves. This is another red flag. One thing you may want to do is ask them to take a picture of themselves holding up a sign with their name on it. In addition, ask for a number of pictures because generally when the scammers are stealing pictures of models from websites, they do not have many photographs. Ask for the picture to be at a particular place that you designate to further test them.
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