The Federal Trade Commission released a warning on Tuesday (Feb. 12) about potential “romance scams,” which cost victims a collective $143 million last year.
The FTC said these particular types of scams cost people more than any other type of swindling, and that they’re expected to become more common.
Romance scams are perpetuated by those who meet victims online and charm them over a period of time, gaining the trust and admiration of the target. Then, they ask for money for something — maybe an emergency medical procedure, or a a ticket to come and visit in person. They will generally request the money be sent by wire transfer or gift card.
Inevitably, the person disappears after they get the money, leaving the victim with no recourse. The scammers work on dating apps and on social media. They usually steal pictures of someone attractive and pretend to be them, or even steal identities whole. The scam is effective, and last year the FTC said people lost a median of $2,600 from the scams.
There are, however, ways people can safeguard themselves against romance scams, and certain signs to look out for, the FTC advises.
Don’t send money, or a gift, to anyone you have not met in person. Don’t rush things. Ask questions of a supposed potential love interest and look for answers that aren’t consistent. If someone is repeatedly changing a story, that’s a red flag.
Take the person’s photo and use the “search by image” function on your search engine. If you see the photo on a popular site, or under a different name, that’s a definite warning sign.
Don’t get caught up in emotions. Talk to people, like friends or family, about a new love interest and pay attention to what they say. If they’re concerned, there’s a good chance that there’s cause for it.
If you suspect you’re in the midst of a scam, stop talking to the person immediately and contact the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. Also, make sure to notify any dating site on which the person tried to scam.