Building a Digital Defense Against Romance Fraud (part 1)

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Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. Today: Building a digital defense against broken hearts and empty wallets. 

Love in the time of COVID is harder than ever, and many people have moved online to find Mr. or Mrs. Right. But, while internet relationships are easier than in-person dates right now, it is also easier for scammers to target you and your bank account. In 2020, victims reported more than $600 million in romance fraud losses to the FBI. That’s up from $475 million in 2019… and only accounts for those who actually reported the crime. 

How do they identify potential victims? They actively search dating websites, apps, chat rooms, and social networking sites. They use well-rehearsed scripts that have been used repeatedly and successfully, and some even keep journals on their victims’ likes and needs to be able to better manipulate them. Amazingly, the scammer likes what you like - whether that’s books, music, yard gnomes, or whatever.

To avoid meeting in person, romance scammers often claim to live or work in other parts of the country or world. Eventually, when they feel they have gained their victim’s trust, they request money, oftentimes for a medical emergency, unexpected legal fee, travel expense, or some other seemingly believable situation.

Here are some warning signs that your new love may be a bad bet: The individual -  

  • Presses you to leave the dating website where you met to communicate solely through email or instant messaging.

  • Sends you a photo that looks like a glamour shot out of a magazine.

  • Professes love quickly.

  • Tries to isolate you from friends and family.

  • Claims to be working and living far away. 

  • Makes plans to visit you, but always cancels because of some emergency.

  • Asks you to send compromising photos or videos of yourself or asks for your financial information. 

  • And, the big one, asks you for money. 

Here’s how to protect yourself: 

  • Only use dating websites with national reputations but assume that con artists are trolling even the most reputable dating and social media sites.

  • Go slow and ask questions.

  • Research the individual’s pictures and profile to make sure your new love isn’t spoofing someone else’s account or using the same pitch on multiple victims at once. 

  • Never send money to someone you met online and have not met in person. 

This last one is hard because the scammer will always couple an urgent need with a promise to pay you back… a promise that almost always goes unfulfilled. 

If you believe are a victim of an online scam, you should report the incident to the FBI’s Internet Crime Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.

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