With thousands (if not millions) of people getting into the digital and online economy every single day, it is not surprising to see the rise in cybercrimes as well. Scams, frauds, and hacks have victimized internet users by the thousands every year, making everyone susceptible, even those who don’t consider themselves as risky.
There are victims of extortion, where cybercriminals take money or other material objects from their victims who they have coerced. Extortionists online can employ methods such as ransomware, bomb threats, and even sextortion conditions.
There are also victims of phishing scams that have not only taken the form of emails but also SMS and instant messages. The scammers usually pretend to be established and legitimate business and persuade customers to make their account information updated. Of course, when updates are done, personal information is provided.
Finally, there is a rise in what has been termed as love scams. In these online dating scenarios, virtual relationships blossom between a fraudster and the unsuspecting victim. Armed only with a fake profile on one or more dating sites, these scammers earn their victims’ trust and before they know it, the latter would already get swindled to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Let’s look deeper into this and see if there are any solutions.
How do romance scams begin?
Here’s the deal: According to the Better Business Bureau, victims of online romance scams in the US and Canada have lost more than $1 billion. What’s worse, because of embarrassment and other personal reasons, victims tend to not report these scams. As a result, cybercriminals get more emboldened, gathering more victims who they scam hundreds of dollars until everything piles up and they end up getting thousands.
Romance scammers use dating websites, apps, Facebook, and other social media. Many use stolen credit cards to join the sites and post fake profiles. They meet victims, interact with them, and quickly try to get them to move to a different form communication such as email or texting. This way, if the dating site identifies the scammer as being bogus and shuts them down, they are already in contact with their victims elsewhere. The scammers will often make fake Facebook pages for their aliases to help bolster their fake identity.
Are senior citizens at the most risk?
Here’s an extreme case: an elderly (80 years old, to be exact) widower in Oregon lost $200,000 to an online romance scam. That’s how grave these situations can go.
The elaborate con job started with an unidentified person stealing a Florida’s woman identity, the Oregon Division of Financial Regulation said in a statement. The scammer then used the stolen identity to befriend the 80-year-old widower through an online dating service, and worked to steal his heart and his money.
How romance scammers work
So, how do these scammers operate? They build a pretty believe profile for themselves. However, there are tell-tale signs of a romance scammer. They are not agreeable to meet-ups even if there are no inconveniences, they almost always have physically attractive profiles, their English isn’t on a native speaker level despite them claiming that they have university degrees and have traveled around the world, they want to talk in other platforms to avoid scam detection by legitimate romance apps, and they are not too keen on video chats.
Scammers tend to use stock images of models, who may be styled to sell a specific product. Photos of them posing with beverages and electronics may feel staged and unnatural because indeed they are. If you already suspect something, request a family photo – they will have a hard time producing one since the model they’re impersonating may have not shot a family-themed campaign. Alternatively, they have been known to steal pictures of real people, to make themselves seem more believable.
A platform shift
Since last year, crafty scammers have slowly shifted from online romance platforms to apps that appear to be neutral and safe, like Google Hangouts and Words With Friends. The public deems that being in such wholesome apps won’t make them victims, but scammers like those in Australia are somehow always ahead of the game.
A new trend emerging in 2019 involved scammers increasingly turning to apps like Google Hangouts, or online games such as Words with Friends and Scrabble to con their victims, the ACCC warned.
“No longer are dating websites the only contact method for dating and romance scams, with an increasing number of reports coming from these emerging websites and apps,” said the ACCC’s deputy chair Delia Rickard.
FBI offers love advice (on how to avoid online romance scams)
For people looking for love and get victimized by scammers instead, the FBI offers a number of tips.
First, people should only use reputable, nationally-recognized dating websites, though it is still possible for scammers to use these as well.
Photos and profiles should be researched using other online search tools and people should ask questions.
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