Romance scams do not compromise networks or devices but use human psychology to coax the victims. However, as an authority on online security, we unfold one of the most prevalent online threats.
A lady in her early 30s from India had recently fallen head over heels in love with a person online, namely “Alex the Officer.” Alongside pools of rosy messages and a promise to get married soon, she received a photograph of a diamond wedding ring with wads of cash, among other expensive gifts that her boyfriend had purportedly sent. In exchange, she was duped worth Rs. 2,50,000, or roughly $3500, in the name of shipping duties for what she never received. Well, she is not alone on the victim list. Several hundred and thousands of victims fall prey to such cupid-ridden scams and lose millions of dollars.
The US Federal Trade Commission had asserted earlier this year that in 2021 alone, people lost $547 million out of 56,000 reported cases, almost double the amount con artists made in 2020.
Reasons why romance scams are thriving
Romance scams are skyrocketing mainly because of the increasing loneliness among urban citizens, which has increased multifold during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic compelled people to isolate themselves and depend more on dating, matchmaking and social apps to discern a soul mate. In addition, dating apps’ enduring impact among millennials, teens and older people’s ignorance of internet fraud encourages con artists.
In such cases, the impostors quickly interact with the victim to win their trust and love. And once they make sure they have gained faith, they devise several tricks to grab some fast cash.
To create awareness against such prevalent scams, MTV rolled out a TV show, Catfish: The TV Show, while popular streaming platform Netflix rolled out a series dubbed The Tinder Swindler. But the growing numbers are showing no sign of waning. For example, the US FTC claims that between January to March 2022, cryptocurrency-based romance frauds totalled $185 million and stood second among the most prevalent scams, right after investment-related cons.
Key stages of a romance scam
Although most scams are not typical, all romance scams follow some common steps and modify them according to the victim’s reactions. The significant stages of any romance scam are–
- They would reach you mostly through dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, etc. But with the massive presence of the Asian crowd on social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter, scammers are thronging there too.
- They will be charming and soft toward the victim while flaunting their lavish lifestyles.
- Their profiles also exhibit their work, lifestyle, and looks to stand up to what they are pretending to be. They often use stolen images from social media to develop a fictional persona notoriously identified as “catfishing.”
- Modern scammers often reach out to the victim through email, phone calls or instant messengers, asking to take out the relationship offline.
- Seldom do they drag out the relationship for a few months. Instead, the swindlers will execute everything rapidly and fulfil their intention in a short period.
- They will introduce them to living somewhere close to the victim but often pretend to move out or travel extensively for some adventurous or well-paying job.
- The scammers would sham attachment and fondness by pretending to send flight tickets or expensive gifts to earn trust rapidly.
- They would express their longing to meet the target victim soon, but every time they would come up with a convincing excuse to mothball the meet-up.
- Once they gain the trust of the other side, they will make up something like medical expenses, freight charges for gifts, tickets to visit, visa fees or sudden trouble and ask for a hefty amount. Modern catfishers also ask to invest in cryptocurrencies via specific platforms in exchange for a massive return. Romance scams involving cryptocurrency are notoriously known as “Pig Butchering,” alias “CryptoRom.” But unlike typical romance scammers, con artists involved in Cryptorom use popular instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Discord. We will go over this scam in detail in a later blog post.
- Most scammers, including romance scammers, are keen to grab the looted money rapidly; hence, they instruct the victim on how to send the money.
How to spot a romance scammer and get rid of them
- Never rush into a relationship. Take your time with everything. Know the person sitting on the other side through prolonged conversations and look for inconsistencies.
- Save all the available images of your new friend and do a reverse image search on Google to ensure they are not available elsewhere under a different persona.
- Read between the lines of each text message sent to you. Especially check the messages describing the suitor’s present whereabouts and profession. Then, please copy and paste them into search engines and check whether they are available anywhere else.
- Never share your personal information or intimate photos with anyone you’re newly acquainted with. The impostors can later use them for identity theft or other vicious purposes.
- Bottle up your feelings and block the person immediately if they ask for money through wire transfers, gift cards or cryptocurrencies. Only send money to people once you meet them in person. Repeat the step if the person on the other side starts recommending investments with exorbitant returns. Also, report the profile to the platform provider.
If you are an Indian resident and fall prey to a romance scammer, report immediately to the National Cybercrime Portal at cybercrime.gov.in. Citizens in the United States should contact the FTC directly at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. The victims from the United Kingdom should report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via the URL actionfraud.police.uk.