Ahead of Sunday’s Valentine’s Day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued an alert on Romance Scams. The FBI acknowledges the crime occurs throughout the year, but those looking for companionship and love are the main target ahead of Valentine’s Day.
FBI classifies a romance scam as a cybercrime where victims can trust online strangers to the point of giving away money or sharing their bank accounts and passwords. Besides stealing money, the scammers can use the accounts for laundering.
FBI Special Agent Jake Folies from the Omaha Cyber Task Force states that the scams impact both men and women of all ages.
Interestingly, the United States recorded 24,000 victims of internet scams, with losses surpassing $605 million in 2020. The states of Iowa and Nebraska recorded some of the highest cases at 300, with losses amounting to at least $5.4 million.
Folies adds there is no timeline for the scam to occur since some relationships last months while others take years.
“In this type of fraud, scammers target and take advantage of people looking for companionship or romantic partners and con them out of their money. Romance scammers search dating websites, apps, chat rooms, and social networking sites in their efforts to build a relationship. Romance scams have resulted in one of the highest amounts of financial losses compared to other internet-facilitated crimes,” said Folies.
Covid-19’s role in romance scams
The bureau adds that the prevalence of romance scams is fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic. The health crisis has resulted in elongated isolations leaving most people to look for love and companionship online.
The FBI adds that some victims are recruited unknowingly. They end up transferring money illegally on others’ behalf leaving behind devastating consequences.
“The consequences of these scams are often financially and emotionally devastating to victims who rarely get their money back and may not have the ability to recover from the financial loss. While we recognize that it may be embarrassing for victims to report this type of fraud, it’s important to do so, so that the FBI and our law enforcement partners can do everything in our power to ensure these online imposters are held accountable,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta from FBI Boston Division.
FBI’s tips for avoiding Romance Scams:
- Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
- Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.