FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against Romance Scams
Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week, building a digital defense against romance scams.
Valentine's Day can bring dreams of red roses and romantic dinners, but for those looking for love, this day can also bring a new round of angst and heartache. This sets up the perfect opportunity for fraudsters to play Cupid.
Anyone can fall victim to this scammer, but most commonly he is going to target women over 40 who are widowed, divorced, or disabled. It usually starts with an innocent-enough-sounding contact online. He’s likely been watching your social media accounts or gleaned info out of an online dating profile. Amazingly, he likes what you like—whether that’s books, music, sports, or whatever. Over time, he starts communicating with you by e-mail or text. He starts calling, and you have long conversations about your life, your future, your love.
And then comes the kicker—he asks you for money. It may take weeks or months to get to this point, but just know that he needs the money desperately. He needs it to finish a job so he can come see you. He needs to buy a plane ticket. He is in the military and getting ready to retire or relocate, but he needs cash for moving expenses. Business partners are trying to steal his company, and he must hire a lawyer. There’s always some urgent need—and then another and another. He promises to pay you back soon, but he never does.
It’s hard to give up on the love of your life and the future he promised you, but this fraudster won't stop until you do. So what are some warning signs? Be wary if:
- He presses you to leave a dating website where you met to communicate solely through e-mail or instant messaging.
- He sends you a photo that looks like a glamour shot out of a magazine.
- He professes love quickly and tries to isolate you from friends and family.
- He claims to be working and living far away—whether that’s on the other side of the country or overseas.
- Makes plans to visit you, but then always has to cancel because of some emergency.
- He asks for money or your help moving money.
And it’s the money that’s really at the heart of all this. If you are diving into an online relationship, the most important thing you should know is to never, ever send money to someone you met online. Likewise, never send compromising photos or videos with which he can later use to blackmail you. As added protection, only use dating websites with nationally-known reputations and make sure to research this new love’s pictures and profile using online search tools. You want to make sure he didn't spoof someone else’s profile—or be using the same pitch with multiple victims at once.
Bottom line: online dating can lead to life-long relationships, but make sure you go into virtual relationships with two feet firmly planted in reality.
If you have been victimized by an online scam, be sure to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.