On Valentine’s Day, thoughts of love surround us.
Unfortunately, so does the work of scammers.
Vulnerable people looking for love can have more than their hearts broken. Their wallets, too, often pay the price when scammers take advantage of the human need for love to line their own pockets. Early in 2022, the Federal Trade Commission reported that in the previous five years, people had lost $1.3 billion to romance scams.
You might think a romance scam could never happen to you. You're more careful, you do your research, you're slow to trust, and you can tell when someone is playing you. But remember: con artists are skilled at manipulation. They know how to sweep you off your feet to gain your trust. Some savvy souls have even gotten as far as a marriage proposal before they caught on to the scam!
Here are a few approaches to be aware of if you're looking for love this year:
They're living abroad
They say they're serving their country, or working in an exotic overseas location. They often use images of military personnel or offshore workers they've found on the web to perpetuate the fraud.
Scammers use their so-called physical distance to explain why they can't meet. Once they've built up some trust with a target, it can seem legitimate that they need money, maybe for a medical emergency or help with legal fees. However, the only thing they need help with is making themselves richer. That's where you help them help themselves to your money.
They offer investment advice
After gaining your trust, the scammer tells you about a terrific investment opportunity using cryptocurrency and directs you to a website where you can invest in this hot opportunity. They might even allow you to make small withdrawals to prove your connection is real. But the only thing real is their ability to steal from you.
They push you to get personal
They want intimate photos of you that, in the wrong hands, could be embarrassing. Once they have these images, they can use them to extort money from you. It's a form of "sextortion" that typically targets teens and young people, but anyone of any age can find themselves a victim once they share private photos with the wrong person.
How to Avoid Criminal Casanovas
When you're looking for love, it can be difficult to overrule your heart with your brain, but in the world we live in today, it's vital to be cautious.
Here are some tips to avoid being stung by a romance scam:
- Look for clues in profile photos. Some scammers are using artificial intelligence (AI) to create images of people who don't even exist. They then use the fake photo to create a dating profile. AI can create fake images that are virtually indistinguishable from real ones, but since the technology is new to laypeople, errors often occur. Here are three examples of photos created with AI. See if you can spot something in one of them that could tip you off it's a fake.
- Do a reverse-image search of the photos sent to you. If you see the images being used elsewhere, especially profile photos, chances are good the images have been stolen and are being used by a scammer.
- Pay attention to your gut. If the relationship is moving a little too quickly for your taste, and your love interest is asking you for information that feels a bit too personal, take a step back to reassess. Feelings of uneasiness or noticing that stories aren't making sense are big clues that you may be the target of a scam. Get away before you've invested more of yourself...or your money!
- Listen to your family and friends. If they have suspicions, take them seriously. They’re not invested in your love relationship emotionally, so they can read situations more clearly.
- Keep love and money separate, especially in the beginning of a relationship. Don’t discuss your finances, don’t share confidential information such as where you do your banking and, above all, don’t send money. If someone starts asking you for money early in a relationship, it's a sign you need to extricate yourself from their clutches, and quickly.
True love is out there. But so are many ruthless attempts to take your money. So remember...listen to your head before giving away your heart.
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