Many people these days meet new friends or love interests online. Sometimes it’s by intentionally seeking relationships on dating sites or apps, while other times it’s a matter of meeting someone on social media or in a chat room, and it turns into an online relationship. Enter the fraudster, who builds trust through this means for the sole purpose of stealing money from victims.
How It Works:
Scammers in these scenarios typically are quick to get their victims to continue their conversations through personal email or instant message, like texting. They are quick to profess love. Eventually – and it may be months in, the request for money will occur. Maybe it’s to buy a plane ticket to meet you in person, or a business opportunity, or a medical emergency.
Just this month, our AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline heard from a victim who was contacted with a friend request on Facebook. The relationship continued by phone and text for several months. Earning the victim’s trust and love, the scammer stole $5,000 from his victim and disappeared.
Another victim met her scammer on a popular matchmaking site. The “love interest” convinced her over time that he was from Norway and he eventually asked for money for a project on an oil rig. The victim realized it was a scam on Christmas, when her “love interest” did not show up as promised. By then, she had already lost $530,000 to his scam.
What You Should Know:
This scam is hot and growing, according to the FBI. Reported incidences were up three-fold between 2012 and 2016, and reported losses were $220 million in 2016 (and we know many victims never report these crimes).
Based on calls to the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline, this is a growing concern by adult children of parents who are falling victim to these scams, and the parents refuse to believe it’s not real.
What You Should Do:
If you suspect the person may be a scammer, cut off contact immediately.
Never wire money, send cash, or put money on gift cards for someone you have only an online relationship with.
Check the person’s photo, using Google’s “search by image” feature; if the same picture shows up elsewhere with a different name attached to it, that’s a sign a scammer may have stolen it.
Be wary of flirtatious and overly complimentary emails. Copy and paste the text into a search engine and see whether the same words show up on websites devoted to exposing romance scams.
Contact the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 if you have questions or think you’ve been a victim of a scam, or are concerned about a friend or loved one who may be a victim.