Very topical at the moment, online scammers are becoming more clever, more international, more plausible and more successful. And there’s more of them.
Motive remains the same however, money. A recent major survey by a UK bank (who has reportedly refunded scammed clients) found that transactions where fraudsters come up with increasingly plausible ’sob stories’ as to why they need money quickly. The transparent days of a Nigerian ex-bank manager sending a poorly worded email with a dodgy IP address asking for $5million to unlock a further $250 million are seemingly behind us. (And let’s not forget that even this worked occasionally!)
Now, it is a soldier trapped in a war zone needing money to get home for Christmas, an intimate activity scam where the scammer gets close to the victim, persuades them to undress and then threatens them with the recordings, a doctor working in an international organisation, it’s credible and scammers are persuasive.
Stalkerware, software that enables someone to monitor another’s device without their knowledge, is on the rise. There are code verification scams, inheritance scams, malware scams, photo scams - if the scam exists it’s out there and being employed. And the scammers are patient - sob stories can span years leading up to the sting.
According to the FTC Federal Trade Commission, in the USA, 25,000 romance scams were reported in 2020 and victims lost in the region of $304 million. And that’s just the ones that were reported, many people being too embarrassed or afraid to tell. Romance scams were the second highest internet crime of 2020.
Victims tend to be middle-aged women (55-64) and dating/social media sites the forums of choice.
Warning signs include: -
Your match professing love early on, wanting to meet you but something always comes up, trying to gain trust, asking for personal information, offering some shiny bait - e.g., Tesla stocks at 50% below book value, a lottery win - then getting you to send money, avoiding video chat but the big red flashing light is when they ask for help with financial transactions or request money. And look out for shock tactics ‘if you don’t sort this out right now, you might lose your pension/home’ creating fear, anger, or excitement. The same scam can come in by text or email so check and verify anything that looks wrong. The scammer may then refer you to a fraud site which skims your password or ask for it themselves.
Once you know what to look for, spotting a scammer is quite easy. Simple ways to protect yourself include: -
Evaluating your online presence, set up a video chat early, approach online relationships slowly, outsource any asks for help, and do your own snooping. Do NOT send compromising photos, reveal personal info, pay someone you haven’t met, or take what they say as gospel. As a general rule of thumb though, it’s all about money - if the talk moves onto money, close down the conversation and report it.
Falling in love can be great but before you let someone steal your heart make sure they’re not picking your wallet. Or save yourself the hassle and play it safe by joining a private, confidential, dating agency with history.