Unfortunately, the Internet, social media, and dating websites are perfect for tricking susceptible Americans into romantic relationships. Scammers will pretend to be interested in an unwitting person and, after building a rapport, ask them to send money or to cash a check or money order. Often, the scammers create urgency by claiming to have a medical emergency or promising to come to the U.S. to be with that person—just as long as a check or money order is cashed to cover expenses. None of their stories are true. Anyone who is socially isolated is susceptible to this scam.
Although many dating sites take steps to provide a safe forum for meeting online, you can do more to protect yourself from scamming fraudsters to keep your online relationships safe.
- First, with any Internet-based relationship, keep your personal details to yourself.
- Next, do a quick Google search of the other person’s name and the town they claim to be living in.
- From there, proceed slowly and look for inconsistencies in the other person’s profile and the information they share.
- Keep an eye out for signs the relationship is moving in a direction that it wouldn’t otherwise go if meeting in real life.
- As you get to know the other person, gently apply the brakes if your new friend pushes to take the conversation to private email. Stay on the website’s platform until it’s time to meet in person.
Indications that someone may not be who they say they are:
- Their name and the name embedded in their email address does not match.
- Obvious spelling and grammar errors.
- The online profile suddenly disappears from the dating site.
- They pledge their love way too quickly.
- They ask you to send or receive money/packages.
- They need money right away due to a medical or family emergency.
- They need a Visa or plane tickets.
- They claim a business opportunity arose that was too good to turn down, and they ask you to wire a loan.
People conducting online imposter scams frequently spin the same lines or tell the same backstory over and over.
That’s where conducting a Google search can be especially helpful. If an online love interest starts making declarations of undying devotion and churning out love poems, search some of the lines on the Internet and see where they’ve been used before. The expressions and pet phrases that online catfishers use are frequently recycled.
Common phrases include:
- My child is being cared for by a nanny or guardian.
- My wife or husband is dead.
- My child is already calling you “mom” or “dad.”
- You are my love or my darling.
- I cannot wait to be with you.
A legitimate love interest will understand if you ask for proof they are for real.
Request a customized photo. Ask them to hold today’s newspaper or a book you have both read in the photo. Next, conduct an online search of any photos they’ve already provided.
If using Bing, choose “Search by Image” by clicking the camera icon under the image search subsection. If using Google, do an image search. If the search results indicate something suspicious, it’s time to lay the evidence on the table. Don’t be surprised if they admit they are a scammer but “have fallen in love for real.” That’s just another tactic, and a heavily recycled one.
What you can do:
- As difficult as it may be, cease all communication.
- Block attempts to resume contact via email, text, or phone. Above all, resist the temptation to physically locate and confront the person you’ve been corresponding with. Turn over everything, including copies of correspondence, to law enforcement and let them investigate.
- If you met on a dating site, contact the site administrator, and let them know.
- If you met on social media, lock down your account.
- New “friend requests” could be the same scammer or one of their associates.
- Screen incoming calls and don’t answer any callers you don’t immediately recognize; let it go to voicemail.
- If possible, change your phone number and make it non-public.
Romance scams hit twice: once in the heart, and then in the pocketbook.
- If your bank or credit accounts were used, contact the bank and credit provider and the Social Security Administration.
- Put a credit alert or freeze on your accounts.
- Get a free copy of your credit report and look for accounts you don’t recognize. Make a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center: www.Ic3.gov and the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection: www.consumer.ftc.gov.
- Or, call the FTC: 877-382-4357.
What we can all do together:
- Educate and promote awareness about online romance scams, so people can identify scams and report them.
- Report and encourage others to report online romance scams. The more reports of these scams, the more resources will be dedicated to preventing them in the future.