The Internet can be a wonderful place to start friendships and relationships. Sometimes, this is done intentionally through dating sites or apps. Other times, it happens through social media or in a chat room. Fraudsters build trust through online relationships for the sole purpose of stealing money from victims.
Scammers in these scenarios typically are quick to get their victims to continue their conversations through personal email, instant message or texting. Online dating scammers will be quick to profess love and eventually, the request for money will occur. The request can come in many different forms - a plane ticket to meet you in person, a business opportunity that cannot be passed up or a medical emergency.
AARP's Fraud Watch Network Helpline has recently seen an increase in reports of online dating scams. One victim reported being contacted with a friend request on Facebook and the relationship continued by phone and text for several months. The scammer earned the victim's trust and love before stealing $5,000 and disappearing.
Another reported victim met her scammer on a popular dating site. The "love interest" convinced her over time that he was from Norway and eventually, he asked for money for a business opportunity. The victim realized that she was scammed on Christmas, when her "love interest" did not show up as promised. By that point, she had already lost $530,000 to his scam.
This scam is hot and growing, according to the FBI. Reported incidents were up three-fold between 2012 and 2016. Reported losses were $220 million in 2016, with many more victims not reporting. Based on calls to AARP's Fraud Watch Network Helpline, this is a growing concern for adult children whose parents are falling victim to these scams when the parents refuse to believe it's not real.
If you suspect the person may be a scammer, cut off contact immediately. Never wire money, send cash or put money on gift cards for someone you have only an online relationship with. Suspicious? Put their photo in Google Images and see if they are really who they say they are. Be wary of flirtatious and overly complimentary emails. Copy and paste the text into a search engine and see whether the same words show up on websites devoted to exposing romance scams. Contact the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 if you think you or a loved one is a victim of a scam.
When it comes to fraud, vigilance is our number one weapon. You have the power to protect yourself and your loved ones from scams. Sign up for free Fraud Watch Network alerts here.
This story is provided by AARP Iowa. Visit the AARP Iowa page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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