Last week was Valentine’s Day, a holiday that celebrates romance and love. No doubt the Pew Research Center had this in mind when it released their February 11 study indicating that 15% of Americans adults have used online or mobile apps to find love (http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/02/11/15-percent-of-american-adults-have-used-online-dating-sites-or-mobile-dating-apps/.
Of course many people characterize Valentine’s Day as a “Hallmark Holiday,” claiming it is more of a tool used by businesses to empty consumers’ wallets than it is a celebration of love and romance. Now many cybercriminals are using dating services in the same way -- to get to the wallets of consumers looking for love.
The FBI is taking notice (https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/romance-scams). They report that last year almost 15,000 complaints categorized as “romance scams” or confidence fraud were reported to their Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), up nearly 2,500 from the previous year. Losses by victims associated with these complaints exceeded $230 million.
Special Agent Christine Beining of the IC3 explains that confidence fraud is attractive to scammers because it is a very difficult crime to prove. If someone hides behind a computer, even if the IC3 can find out where they are, it is still difficult to identify who they are.
The Pew report says online dating by 55-64 year olds has doubled in the last year. This population is especially vulnerable because many are less tech-savvy and may be more established financially. The FBI published the story of a Texas woman in her fifties who was struggling in her marriage, and lost $2 million to a romance scam. She came forward “because I don’t want this to happen to anybody else. I not only invested money in this man but there is a big, huge piece of my heart that I invested in him,” she said. (Full story at - https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/romance-scams)
The FBI offers these steps to stay safe while online dating:
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere, legitimately or as a different identity.
- Go slow and ask questions.
- Beware of an individual who seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or Facebook to go “offline.”
- Beware of those who try to isolate you from friends and family or request inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Be wary of an individual who promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.
The FBI also councils that if you suspect an online relationship is a scam to stop all contact immediately and to file a complaint with their Internet Crime Complaint Center at this link: https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx