February has a reputation as the month of love. But the need for companionship and belonging can make anyone susceptible to a romance scam. Here's how to identify and avoid this costly and heart-wrenching crime.
How Romance Scams Work
Scientifically speaking, falling in love activates dopamine in the brain, which then forms a strong attachment to the other person. Romance scams exploit this bit of human biology, with criminals finding victims on dating sites and apps, Facebook, and other social media.
Romance scams are a crime orchestrated by ruthless, cold individuals looking solely for monetary gain, not companionship. One of the most popular romance scams usually includes the scammer, who claims to live overseas (either for business or military service), befriending someone online, and pretending to be a potential love interest. They then ask for money for an emergency, hospital bill, or travel expenses so they can visit the person they are scamming. If a victim sends money, it is lost forever.
It gets worse. The criminals will often promise to return the money. All they require is the victim's online banking username and password. Once they have that information, they clean out the account and disappear.
Flirting with Disaster
Romance scams have quickly become the costliest online crime. In 2020, U.S. victims lost over $304 million, according to the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation). That's up 50% since 2019.
It's likely a romance scam when someone:
- Professes love quickly.
- Claims to be overseas and cannot come to visit.
- Asks for money for an emergency or other needs.
- Promises to pay the victim back (all they need is an online banking login).
- Requests money be wired or loaded to a card, such as MoneyPak, Amazon, Google, iTunes, or Steam.
Crush the Crush
Want to thwart the criminals? Request an in-person meeting before sending money or sharing information. Romance scam perpetrators will always have an emergency or other conflict that keeps them from meeting. Other ways to protect yourself include:
- Reverse search the person's photo: If they're a criminal, they are likely using a fake image and name. Often, those photos are of overseas actors or actresses.
- Ask questions: Cross-examine the person to find holes in their story.
- Never send sensitive information: That includes your Social Security Number, phone number, account number, credit cards numbers, or online banking login credentials (not even to someone claiming to be a credit union representative).
- Never transfer money: Not even if someone calls claiming to be from the credit union. Instead, hang up and call us back to report the crime.
- Don't send compromising photos of yourself: Criminals will use these to blackmail you out of money.
- Talk to someone you trust: If your friends and family think it's a scam, it probably is.
- Don't follow orders: Criminals might ask victims to cash a check and then wire the money.
One Nevada Loves You
If you or someone you know falls victim to a romance scam, contact us to stop all payments, block credit and debit cards, and change online banking login credentials. Then report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as well as the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).