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Romance Scams: Protecting Yourself is More Than a “Matter of the Heart”

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

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When it comes to cybercrimes, romance scams are anything but a sweetheart deal.

It’s enough to cause someone, who we might’ve referred to as a “hopeless romantic”, to give up on the “Power of Love”. Or, at the very least, for some of us, we wouldn’t be trying to decide as to whether or not we need to reach out to the producers at MTV’s “Catfish”.

Yet, at a time when almost a third of Americans said they’ve used an online dating service or app and fully 10 percent of people who are in a relationship said they met their partner online, the cybersecurity steps we’re needing to take to meet someone online – as a way to begin a relationship – is not unlike the tips we’re reminded to follow with our bank accounts, credit cards, social media profiles, and, yes, even our own personal information.

With Valentine’s Day a week away, it can feel, at times, it’s more of a transaction than it is about, maybe, falling in love, especially when you consider:

  • In 2022, Americans lost $1.3 billion to romance scams.
  • That’s a number that may be even higher when you consider that some people – embarrassed by what happened to them – are reluctant to come forward and report that they’ve been a victim.
  • Forty percent of romance scam victims said the contact began on social media.

If you’re not familiar with how these scams work, it begins when a bad actor creates a fake online profile. From there, they engage you in a conversation, be it online or on the phone, and, often, it’s not long before they’re pursuing you with a not-so-innocent flirtation.

There’s a pattern to their deception, with more red flags than you could throw after a crash at a NASCAR race, including:

  • The person asks for money for an urgent matter, such as a medical expense, or even a plane ticket to visit you. Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
  • The person requests a hard-to-track form of payment, such as a preloaded gift card.
  • He or she claims to live far away from you; often in a foreign country, or they’ll tell you they’re in the military and serving overseas.
  • The person breaks promises to see you in person, or they want to move the conversation you’re having from the dating app to other forms of messaging, such as WhatsApp, Signal, or Telegram.
  • The relationship feels like it is moving very fast.

If you suspect that someone is trying to take advantage of you (or a friend or family member), it’s important to take action and immediately stop communicating with the person. Also, be sure to:

  • Note any identifiable information you have on them, such as an email address or phone number.
  • Be sure to take screenshots and write down any contact information.
  • If you’ve been scammed out of money, contact your bank or credit card company.
  • File a report with law enforcement.
  • Report the scam to FTC and the FBI.
  • Here in Indiana, you can also visit the Indiana Cybersecurity Hub website and click on the “Report a Cyber Incident” page.

As with anything you post on social media, it’s always a good idea to think about what you’re sending, what it reveals about you, and who can see it.

  • You can also consider setting your social media profiles to “private”, as it makes it harder for cybercriminals to target and communicate with you.
  • Always “think before you click” on any message that pushes you to do something immediately or asks you for personal information.
  • Never share any personal or financial information via email or text if you do not know the sender.
  • You can also do what is known as a reverse image search of the scammer’s profile picture.
    • In doing so, you may see that the image belongs to an entirely different person or that it’s affiliated with different (or multiple) online identities.
    • If that’s the case, there is a good chance that the person – behind the fake profile – is trying to scam you.

* * *

Enjoying the company of someone we can trust is one of those things we’ve come to discover that we can’t always take for granted. What is it Forrest Gump said, “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re to get”. But, as with a lot of things in life, we can do our best to avoid trouble, simply by trusting our instincts and being aware of our surroundings – even when we’re online.

Happy Valentine’s Day!