Looking for romance? Follow these tips to skip the scammers: Internet Scambusters #821
Romance and dating scams are the most expensive consumer frauds around - and they've more than doubled in just the past couple of years.
Some victims have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but by following our advice in this week's issue you can easily sniff out the crooks.
We'll also tell you what to do if you find your photo and identity details are being used by the scammers to lure their victims.
Now, here we go...
$220 Million - The Price of Fake Love for Dating Scam Victims
Romance and dating scams are now costing Americans more than $220 million every year, with some victims losing their entire life savings -- sometimes many hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and their homes to evil con artists.
The loss figure is more than double what it was just a couple of years ago. Law enforcement and consumer protection experts say it's just getting worse.
Although dating and romance scams make up just a small proportion of the total amount of fraud, they generally account for the largest individual financial loss of any type of consumer crime.
And online dating site users are complaining the firms don't do enough to protect them and, in some cases, are either overcharging or otherwise misleading them.
Furthermore, some people who aren't actually looking for romance are finding themselves caught up in scams where their photo and other ID details are being used to snare new victims.
All in all, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission says it received more than 16,000 romance scam complaints in 2017, up from 11,000 in the previous year. They say 8 out of every 10 victims are women.
Imposter scams make up the bulk of complaints. Crooks, usually based overseas, pretend to be lonely hearts. They patiently build up their victims' trust until they reach the point where they can ask for financial help for some sort of imaginary problem.
This has been the technique for many years but there's apparently no shortage of gullible people who get taken in by these tales of woe spread by email, social media and dedicated dating sites.
In a statement earlier this year, FBI agent Christine Beining said: "The Internet makes this type of crime easy because you can pretend to be anybody you want to be. You can be anywhere in the world and victimize people.
"The perpetrators will reach out to a lot of people on various networking sites to find somebody who may be a good target. Then they use what the victims have on their profile pages and try to work those relationships and see which ones develop."
Meanwhile, the FTC has also been looking at the sources and types of complaints made against some of the online dating services currently operating.
The Commission keeps a database of consumer complaints about these organizations.
A newly updated version of this database shows concerns about records being hacked, misleading language, being tricked into paying higher subscription fees, and fake profiles.
Many users also grumble that complaints they make to some of the sites are often ignored. It's down to the individual to try to protect their interests.
At the same time, fake profiles often use photos and personal details stolen from innocent people off of sites like Facebook.
Rolling all these issues together gives a clear indication of the growing scale of dating scam crime. Its proportion of the overall total of Internet scams has doubled since 2016.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
Here are 10 steps (mostly from the FBI) you can take to drastically reduce the chances of being a victim of this type of crime:
1. Thoroughly research the person's profile, checking if the name and/or photo have been used elsewhere.
2. Don't rush; resist any temptation to move things along quickly. Ask the individual plenty of questions about themselves. For example: Where do they work? What can they tell you about the place where they say they live?
3. Be wary if they ask to communicate with you outside of the dating site or any other site where you met them.
4. Don't respond to requests to send inappropriate photos or financial information. These are important red flags.
5. Another red flag: The other person agrees to meet you, then subsequently makes an excuse about why they can't make the date.
6. Don't be easily taken in by flattery, claims of celebrity status and/or boasts of wealth. These are often part of the scammer's trust-building process and usually preludes to a request for money.
7. Don't send money to anyone you don't know and haven't met, no matter how plausible their need seems to be. If you refuse money and the relationship cools, you know it's a scam.
8. If you plan to use an online dating site, check out their terms of service carefully and research what other people say about them. For more on this, see this helpful article published by Consumer Reports, Online Dating: Match Me If You Can, which also includes a link to a ranked list of dating firms. Also, check the FTC complaints list mentioned earlier.
9. Protect your personal information, especially photos, that can be viewed online. Use tight security settings on social media and dating networks to protect your privacy. All reputable sites provide tips on their privacy settings.
10. If you believe your photo or other profile information is being used by scammers, you must contact the site that is hosting the impersonating profile and ask them to remove it. Facebook and Instagram both have dedicated help pages for this.
Several sites, such as pixsy.com, claim to be able to check for usage of your photos without permission anywhere on the web.
We have no experience of them and can't vouch for how good or expensive they are but in the never-ending fight against dating scams, they may be worth checking out.
Alert of the Week
Would you buy a "winning" lottery ticket that someone offered you at a discount price?
We hope not because almost certainly it's a fraud, even though the seller may provide a good reason why he/she supposedly wants to sell rather than make a claim.
Crooks are experts at altering non-winning tickets and scratch cards to look like they have the correct numbers, and have been doing just that, most recently in North Carolina.
Just buy your ticket or card from authorized outlets only and then let Lady Luck do the rest!
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!