With Valentine’s day fast approaching, federal and state authorities are cautioning the public to stay vigilant about romance scams, which reached a record of $304 million in losses reported to the federal government in 2020.
Romance scams, also known as confidence fraud, involve fraudsters preying upon victims who look for companionship on online dating apps and social networking sites. The goal of these scammers is to gain access to victims’ financial or personal identifying information, according to the FBI.
Victims are usually asked to send money via wire transfers or through reload cards like MoneyPak or gift cards, officials say.
In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission received over 32,000 reports of romance scams, which totaled to a loss of about $304 million, reported to the agency. This figure amounted close to a 50 percent increase from 2019.
The agency said that the median amount sent to scammers in 2020 was $2,500, with people 70 and older reporting the highest individual median losses at $9,475.
In a separate database maintained by the FBI, almost 23,768 complaints were logged nationwide with the bureau in 2020, which totaled to about $605 million in losses.
“Be wary of people you only meet online who are quick to establish a relationship and gain your trust. They may ask for money for an emergency or unexpected expense, and may even ask you to pay for their travel to visit you.”
The Texas Attorney General office released a video on Feb. 11 to warn about the scam, saying that victims are particularly vulnerable due to the isolation caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.
A similar trend in romance fraud is also being observed overseas, which has also been attributed to the pandemic. Data from UK Finance shows that there was a 20 percent increase in bank transfer romance fraud between January and November in 2020 compared to 2019 in the United Kingdom.
Similarly, in Australia, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warned that there had been an influx of scams in the country. A woman from Queensland who believed she had fallen for a U.S. Army official she met online resulted in her unintentionally laundering $116,152 (AUD$150,000) to an organized crime gang.
The FBI recommends that when dating someone you have met online to consider the following tips:
– 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 communicate “offline.”
– Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family.
– Beware if the individual claims to be working and living far away, whether it’s on the other side of the country or overseas.
– Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, but then always cancels because of some emergency.
– Beware if you’re asked to send inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
– Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.
– Never help anyone move money through your own account or someone else’s. You could become an unwitting money mule for the perpetrator helping to carry out other theft and fraud scheme