One of the biggest scams, we have seen at the bank, are scammers taking advantage of people looking for romantic partners, often via dating websites, apps or social media by pretending to be prospective companions. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details. We have seen a rise in these social engineering type scams also known as catfishing. They start with a simple friend request, wink or swipe and usually end in heartbreak and lost money.
Scammers typically create fake online profiles designed to lure you in with a fictional name or steal the identity of a real person. They pose as military personnel, aid workers or professionals from the United States who are working abroad in countries such as Nigeria.
These romance scammers will express strong emotions for you in a relatively short period of time and may suggest you move the relationship to a private channel, such as phone, email or instant messaging. They will go to great lengths to gain your interest and trust, such as showering you with loving words, sharing ‘personal information’ and even sending you gifts. They may take months to build this romance with you and even pretend to book flights to visit you, but never actually come.
Once they have gained your trust and your defenses are down, they will ask you (either subtly or directly) for money, gifts or your bank account and credit card details. The scammer will pretend to need the money for some sort of personal emergency or to come visit you because they cannot afford the travel costs.
In some cases, you may be asked to cash a check they have sent you, keep a portion of the money for you and mail the rest to someone else. The check they sent then is returned as NSF, the check you sent has been cashed and you are out the money.
Sometimes the scammer will tell you about a large amount items they need to transfer out of the country they are in but they need your money to cover taxes or fees. After you send the money and they leave the country they are in they become detained in another country and ask you to pay their fines or fees. You may even be contacted by a “lawyer” claiming to need money for court costs and legal fees to release them. This will keep going and going without them ever arriving in the states to meet you.
In the end you could lose thousands of dollars all in the name of love. The money you send to scammers is almost always impossible to recover. Be cautious of anyone you meet online and look for these warning signs:
- You meet someone online and after just a few interactions they profess strong feelings for you.
- Their profile on the internet dating website or their Facebook page is not consistent with what they tell you. For example, their profile picture looks different to their description of themselves.
- Their messages are written poorly and they do not speak English well.
- After gaining your trust – often waiting weeks or months– they tell you an elaborate story and ask for money, gifts, your bank account or credit card information.
- If you don’t send money right away, their messages and calls become more desperate, persistent or direct. If you do send money, they continue to ask you to send more.
- They don’t keep their promises and always have an excuse for why they can't travel to meet you and why they always need more money.
If you think you have been scammed block the person on social media and report them to the website, app or social media site where the scammer first approached you. If you have provided your bank account or credit card details, contact your bank or credit card company immediately.