It’s almost Valentine’s Day. Lots of us have profiles on online dating sites, apps or social media to find “the one.” But that interesting person who just messaged you could be a sweet-talking romance scammer trying to trick you into sending money.
Reports of romance scams are growing, and costing people a lot of cash. According to new FTC data, the number of romance scams people report to the FTC has nearly tripled since 2015. Even more, the total amount of money people reported losing in 2019 is six times higher than it was five years ago – from $33 million lost to romance scammers in 2015 to $201 million in 2019. People reported losing more money to romance scams in the past two years than to any other fraud reported to the FTC.
In a sea of online profiles, romance scammers can be hard to detect. But, there are signs you can look out for. Romance scammers start by using someone else’s identity to create fake profiles. They’ll send you flattering messages to make a special connection, say all the right things, and gain your trust. They might claim to be a doctor, a servicemember, or an oil rig worker living overseas. They want to make future plans with you. But then, something comes up and they ask you for money to help them out. Which nearly always means asking you to buy gift cards (and give them the PIN, so they get the cash), or wiring them money.
Here’s the thing: Never send money or gifts to a love interest you haven’t actually met. It’s a romance scam.
- Stop communicating with the person immediately.
- Search online for the type of job the person says they have. See if other people have heard similar stories. For example, you could do a search for “oil rig scammer” or “US Army scammer.”
- Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. If it’s associated with another name or with details that don’t match up, it’s a scam.
- Never wire money to a stranger, or pay anyone with gift cards. If someone asks you to wire money or pay with gift cards, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.