Over the years I have warned you many times about romance scams, but it is important to do so again because these scams are getting worse. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Americans lost more money to romance scams last year than to any other scam and the situation is getting more serious. It is also important to note that romance scams are not limited to the United States, but occur 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. Recently ten people in Oklahoma, New York, California and Texas were charged by federal law enforcement with conspiring to launder money obtained in a romance scam that targeted women around the world. Following a familiar patter, the scammers would establish relationships with women online through various legitimate dating websites and social media using fake names, locations and images. The scammers would pose as Americans working abroad. After building trust with their victims, they would ask for money to help them through some sort of emergency. Americans lost 143 million dollars to romance scams last year with one woman losing $546,000.
The FBI recently reported that romance scams increased 70% in the past year. While anyone can be the victim of a romance scam, according to the FBI, the elderly, women and people who have been widowed are particular vulnerable. Most romance scams are online and involve some variation of the person you meet through an online dating site or social media quickly falling in love with you and then, under a wide variety of pretenses, asking for money.
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 asks 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 an online 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. You also can check on the legitimacy of photographs by seeing if they have been used elsewhere by doing a reverse image search using Google or websites such as tineye.com. 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. If you meet someone through a dating website, be particularly wary if they ask you to leave the dating service and go “offline.”
You also should be particularly wary of online relationships with people in the military because while many real military personnel do use social media and dating websites, they are a favorite disguise for scammers.
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