Looking for Love in All The Wrong Places

February 14, 2023

There is a special place in Hell for criminals who target the lonely and the heartbroken – or so we like to think. But that timing doesn’t work for me. Rather than waiting for the hereafter for criminals to receive their well-earned punishment, let’s talk about how to move up the timeline for them to receive their punishment in the here and now.

Like so many crimes that have flourished thanks to the growth of the Internet and the weirdness that is the Pandemic, Romance Schemes continue to be pervasive and lucrative for the most callous and heartless amongst us.

We all want love in our lives. But with love sometimes comes loss and isolation. Friends encourage their lovelorn family members and friends to “get back out there” and that’s good advice. That usually means creating a dating profile on one or more dating sites. eHarmony, Hinge, Bumble and Match are just a few of the hundreds of sites that promise to mend our broken hearts. But not everyone on a dating site is looking for love. Some just want your money.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received reports from 24,299 victims who experienced more than $956 million in losses to Romance scams in 2021.  These scams involve criminals who create a fake online identity in order to deceive victims into believing that they are interested in a romantic relationship. They often spend weeks or even months seeking to establish a relationship with their intended victims and gain their trust.  Some will even go so far as to propose marriage without ever having met their victims in person. In fact, the in person meeting is often discussed but rarely ever happens.

As part of their carefully crafted personas, they often claim to be in the military, or a profession that requires them to travel extensively outside the U.S. These claims make it seem plausible that they can’t meet in person and why they eventually have an urgent need for money to be wired to an overseas bank account for a medical emergency or some other emergency requiring them to “borrow” money.

Sometimes, such schemes involve convincing victims to send compromising photos under the guise of intimacy. Instead, those photos are used to extort money from victims by threatening to post the photos publicly or distribute them to everyone in the victim’s contact database. The IC3 received 18,000 such “sextortion” complaints in 2021.

Some victims of Romance scams have reported being pressured into making investments often involving cryptocurrency. The IC3 received another 4325 complaints from victims who lost over $429 million in investment losses resulting from Romance schemes.

The FBI has the following advice on how to avoid falling victim to a Romance scheme.

Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere. 
Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
Beware if the individual 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 have only communicated with online or by phone.

According to statista.com, as of 2023, there are an estimated 52.2 million Americans who have active dating profiles on one or more dating sites.  That’s a pretty large victim pool but that also means there’s a pretty good chance there’s someone out there for you. Just be careful. Like so many other areas of our lives, we need be thoughtful about important life decisions including who we allow into our weird little worlds. It’s ok to be a little guarded and a little skeptical. Ask questions, don’t take things at face value and know when to show someone the door when they aren’t able to do something simple like meet in person or provide detailed answers to your questions.  And never provide your financial information, send money or compromising photos to anyone, especially someone you’ve never met no matter how long you’ve been talking to them online or how compelling the sob story may be.


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