ATLANTA, GA – Many singles looking for romance have turned to online dating sites, especially now that the pandemic has led many to make socializing a virtual-only activity. Unfortunately, scammers are taking advantage of the situation by perpetrating romance scams, and they have been largely successful. In fact, even before the pandemic hit, tens of thousands of people were falling victim to these online scams each year.
“Because of the limits on socializing due to COVID, many people are feeling isolated and lonely, making them particularly vulnerable to scammers,” says Attorney General Chris Carr. “These fraudsters try to exploit people’s emotions in order to get them to send money. We encourage everyone who uses online dating apps to learn the hallmarks of romance scams so they don’t become a victim.”
In a typical romance scam, fraudsters create fake online profile using someone else’s photos. They profess their love early on, even though they have never met you. They encourage you to communicate with them via email, phone or IM, rather than through the online dating site, so that the dating service won’t have a record of the conversation. They often claim to be traveling, in the military, or living or working abroad to explain why they are unable to meet in person. These days, the Covid pandemic in and of itself serves as a plausible excuse for avoiding face-to-face contact. Once the scammers have your romantic interest and your trust, they make up stories about how they urgently need money and ask you to send it to them immediately via wire transfer or gift cards. If you send the money, you’ll likely never see it – or the romantic partner – again. In some cases, though, a scammer may try to string a victim along to see if he can get the person to keep sending more money.
Tips to avoid romance scams:
- Be suspicious if an online romance is getting very serious but the person is never able to meet face-to-face.
- Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
- Never agree to open a bank account for someone, transfer money, or re-ship goods they send you. These are signs of money laundering, which is a criminal offense.
- Stick to the dating app for your communications and avoid giving out your phone number or email address.
- Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. This may reveal that the picture is really of someone else or that it has been used for multiple online identities.
- Make your social media profiles more secure by limiting who can see your profile and being selective about what personal details you share. This will make it more difficult for a scammer to target you.
If you believe you are the victim of a romance scam:
- Immediately cut off communication.
- Make a note of the scammer’s email address and any other identifiable information about him.
- Contact your bank or credit card issuer to see if you can get your money back.
- Notify the online dating company.
- File a complaint with the FTC by visiting ftc.gov/complaint.