In the Scam of the day for March 5, 2021 I first told you about the arrest of Kofi Osei in Massachusetts who was charged with using romance scams to steal $535,000 from a woman in California and two women in Florida. He used fake names and after gaining their trust concocted wild stories to justify his asking for funds. He told his first victim that he was working on an oil rig in Dubai that was involved in an explosion and needed money for a lawyer. He told his second victim that he was involved in an accident in France and was arrested and needed money for legal assistance. He told his third victim that he was working on an oil rig in Texas and there was a problem with his company’s bank account and he needed money to pay for drilling equipment. Now two years later, he has been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison and ordered to pay more than 4 million dollars in restitution.
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. Since 2019 approximately half of the reported instances of the romance scam have started on social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram rather than on dating sites or dating apps according to the FTC. One particularly scary statistic is that people over 70 years old victimized in a romance scam lose, on average, about $10,000 as contrasted to $2,800 for younger victims of romance scams.
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 send 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.
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.”
Recently, the dating sites Match, Tinder, Hinge and Plenty of Fish started a new public awareness program to help people recognize romance scams. One tip they give is to use the verification check on your matches to help confirm they are the person who appears in the profile photo. Also they advise you to set up video chats to confirm the person who they claim to be.
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