$133 million lost to romance scams in first half of 2021, FBI reports
A report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has revealed that victims have lost more than $133 million to romance scammers between January 1, 2021, and July 31, 2021. In addition to the traditional romance scams where scammers simply ask for money, there has been a recent trend of romance scams involving cryptocurrencies. The FBI’s Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has received over 1,800 complaints related to romance scams in 2021.
A type of confidence trick, a romance scam involves scammers developing a fake relationship with their victims in order to scam them out of their money. Romance scammers usually target specific groups, specifically older and/or more vulnerable people. When they establish romantic relationships after approaching victims on social media and dating apps, scammers start making up reasons to ask for money. Traditional romance scams involve scammers asking for money for various medical emergencies, passport/visa issues, education, etc. However, with the popularity of cryptocurrencies, romance scammers have also started pushing crypto scams.
The way romance scams work is pretty simple. Scammers initially approach potential victims on social media and dating apps, start gaining their confidence/trust and eventually form an online relationship. They shower their target with attention, affection, and sweet words, and eventually establish a romantic relationship. Because this takes quite a while, romance scams are rather long-term, which is why the same scammers are probably interacting with multiple victims. After a few weeks or months of communication, the scammer will start talking about cryptocurrency investment opportunities that promise huge profits. They would send links to fraudulent websites but claim they are legitimate investment websites.
“The scammer directs the victim to a fraudulent website or application for an investment opportunity. After the victim has invested an initial amount on the platform and sees an alleged profit, the scammers allow the victim to withdraw a small amount of money, further gaining the victim’s trust,” the FBI warns.
Scammers will then start pressuring victims into investing large sums of money and try to rush them by claiming the opportunity is time-sensitive. If the victim complies, when they try to withdraw the funds, scammers will come up with all kinds of excuses why they cannot do that. For example, additional fees and taxes will suddenly appear. When scammers see that victims are becoming suspicious or no longer have any money to invest, they will stop all communication.
Romance scams generally target those most vulnerable, including the elderly and widows/widowers. Scammers are often expert manipulators, which makes it difficult for victims to realize what’s going on. It’s not without reason that victims lose so much money to these scams.
Tips for avoiding romance scams
- Be wary if a potential love interest refuses to meet you in real life and always comes up with some excuse.
Avoiding meetups in real life is one characteristic that always applies to romance scams. Once some kind of relationship forms, potential romance scams victims would start asking to meet up in real life, only to be rejected every time. To outright avoid scenarios where a meetup would be possible, romance scammers often claim to live overseas. For example, they may be a US soldier stationed in a war zone. This kind of excuse not only allows scammers to avoid real-life meetups without raising suspicion but also provides a good excuse to ask for money. So if your potential romantic partner is refusing to meet in real life, something is not right.
- Do not send money to people you have not met in real life.
The main objective of romance scams is to steal money so all scammers will eventually start asking. No matter how close of a relationship you have with someone you have only met online, you should never send money to them. They will come up with all kinds of reasons to make it seem like they are in desperate situations. For example, they may claim to need money for a medical emergency. Or they may need it to buy a passport to leave the country they claim to be stuck in for whatever reason. No matter how desperate the situation may seem, always keep in mind that you could be dealing with a scammer.
- Keep your social media profiles private.
Romance scammers often pick their victims by going through their social media profiles. They can learn a lot from simply viewing a few pictures or reading personal posts. To prevent strangers from accessing information about you, keep your social media profiles private and accessible only to those in your friend lists. It’s also recommended to not link social media accounts with dating profiles, as well as not accept friend requests from people you do not know.
- Be careful about what you post on social media.
Be careful to not overshare on social media because certain kinds of posts could be used to get your interest. Deeply personal posts, in particular, should be avoided as they can provide the insight necessary for scammers to establish trust with you.
- Do not disclose your financial status or send sensitive information to strangers.
Avoid posting about your financial status on social media. Posting about a lavish lifestyle, exotic trips, expensive items, etc., would signal to romance scammers that they should target you. You should also avoid revealing information about your finances to strangers or those you meet online.
- Do not invest in cryptocurrency opportunities suggested to you by people you do not know in real life.
With the popularity of cryptocurrency, cybercriminals also started pushing crypto scams. Romance scams are no exception. If someone you meet online on social media or a dating app reveals that they have inside information about a great crypto investment opportunity or if they offer to invest your money for you, you are dealing with a scammer. Always be very skeptical of investment opportunities introduced to you by other people, and make sure to do your research before investing.
- Be skeptical of cryptocurrency investment opportunities that guarantee huge profits.
If you are introduced to a cryptocurrency investment opportunity and it guarantees huge profits, it’s more than likely a scam. Generally, if something sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
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