Romance is in the air during the month of February and so are associated scams.
Last year, according to the FTC, the ambitiously amorous reported losing $143 million to romance scams, a higher total than for any other type of scam. And this volume is considered conservative as a percentage of those scammed are too ashamed to report the offense.
Often perpetuated online, these scams are inexpensive to initiate. Many dating sites are free to the user and fake photos are easy to upload. One company that screens profiles for dating companies estimates that of the 3.5 million profiles it scans per month, 500,000 are bogus. But scammers also use Facebook, Google Hangouts and other social media.
Men and women over the age of forty and frequently upwards of sixty are the most common targets of these scams. The target profile is that of an employed, affluent and trusting partner.
UK’s Professor Monica Whitty has studied the psychology of romance frauds. Her findings suggest that they proceed through three distinct stages: devising an online profile and making contact with vulnerable victims; learning as much about the victim’s family, background, dreams and assets as possible; and finding a way to access the money. Tactics used are similar to those used in human trafficking and online child pornography.
Nigerian scam artists are major perpetrators of this type of fraud. Recently, these well-organized groups – who coincidentally are typically also involved in organized crime activities such as prostitution and drug dealing – have been posing as U.S. military personnel.
The emotional harm to the victim is often greater than the monetary loss.
If you suspect a romance scam, cut off contact immediately. Report the scam and celebrate Valentine’s Day scam free!