Each year around Valentine’s Day we see stories about people finding their true love and living happily ever after. People are meeting online more than ever before and while some connections lead to a fairytale ending, others become horror stories. Online romance scams exploded during the pandemic because many people were isolated and lonely and ruthless fraudsters took advantage.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) tracks identity theft, fraud, online scams, and other consumer complaints to keep US citizens aware of current issues and help protect them from criminal activity. In 2020 the FTC reported $304 million lost through dating scams. This figure jumped almost 50% from 2019.
Even worse, in 2021 the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that internet dating victims lost more than one billion dollars to online romance scams. Some people voluntarily sent money to a scammer who had wormed their way into the victims’ hearts, but others faced identity theft when their new love interest stole personal information to access their accounts electronically.
Top Online Romance Scams in 2022
Throughout history, unscrupulous people have feigned romantic interest to extort power and wealth from their targets. Since the internet was developed, and especially with the advent of online dating apps, scamming is even easier.
Most romance fraudsters create fake online profiles featuring someone else’s photos and false background information. They post on dating sites, social media, and other target-rich places. Then they search the internet for likely victims, tailor their story to match the target’s profile, and the game is afoot.
Over time they establish a relationship. Although they might mention meeting in person, those meetings never happen. Some common excuses include:
- They are deployed in the military,
- They work on an offshore oil rig,
- They are volunteering as a doctor in a foreign country,
- They are traveling overseas, or
- They must leave town to care for a sick relative.
The scammer builds trust and commitment over time by professing their love for their new soulmate. Eventually, they ask for money or gather enough personal information to access the victim’s finances.
How Online Swindlers Gather Personal Information
The con artist’s goal is to learn your personal details, passwords, and even account numbers. They may ask about your first pet’s name, where you grew up, where you currently live (and bank), and other questions that could lead to password clues. They might ask about your birthday so they can send something special, but of course, you never receive a gift.
Once a scammer has your name, birth date, and a few other pieces of information, they can try to access your accounts electronically. If you use a computer for online dating, they may ask you to share your screen when there is security information showing. Or they find a way to gain control over your computer or tablet to lock you out and manipulate your financial accounts.
After a romantic swindler has access to your online accounts, they can steal the entire balance in your account and more in some circumstances. For example, if you have overdraft protection, your account can be wiped out plus any additional funds allowed by the overdraft agreement.
Is Your Special Someone Scamming You?
If you are in an online relationship and suspect it could be a romance scam you need to protect yourself and your financial future. Never give personal or financial information to someone you have never met in person, especially if your relationship is new and the other person quickly claims to have strong feelings for you.
Be extra wary of anyone who suddenly needs money. They may request funds to pay:
- Medical bills for a sick relative,
- Travel expenses to visit you,
- Customs charges to get valuable property released,
- An old debt to avoid collection actions, or
- A variety of other sympathetic expenses.
If you don’t voluntarily send the money they request, they might try to steal your money online. Keep a close eye on your savings, checking, spending, investment, and other accounts to watch for any unauthorized activity. If you notice anything suspicious, you must act quickly.
What to do if You Realize Money is Missing from Your Account
Congress enacted the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) to help protect victims of tech crimes such as identity theft and online romance scams. For maximum protection under the EFTA, notify your financial institution as soon as possible about any unauthorized electronic transactions.
While a phone call or trip to your bank is a good idea, you should always send notice in writing with a return receipt requested. Include any documents or other information needed to identify your account and support your claim that a transaction was unauthorized. Upon receiving your notice, the bank must investigate your claim, minimize your losses, and refund the stolen money if the transaction was unauthorized.
If you are facing an unauthorized electronic transfer, A Consumer’s Guide to the EFTA is a valuable resource. The Guide explains the Act’s detailed provisions and how you are protected. If you are an ID theft victim, also be sure to read this checklist for identity theft victims to help minimize your losses. Unfortunately, some banks or other financial institutions don’t abide by the EFTA. If that happens, working with a consumer protection attorney may be the only way to recover your stolen funds.
5 Tips to Avoid Online Romance Scams
- Don’t disclose personal and financial details online where a scammer can find and use the information to target you and eventually steal your money.
- Be careful meeting people online. Research the person’s background and do a reverse photo search to see if the person is connected to any online schemes.
- Be cautious if the person tries to lure you away from the dating app and requests your personal email address, telephone number, or other details. Discuss any concerns with friends and family who might sense a scam before you do.
- Be suspicious if the person promises to meet you and cancels repeatedly. If you haven’t met your romantic interest after a few months, be extremely cautious. Never send money or provide information to someone you haven’t met in person. Even if you have met, if that person asks for money, it’s a red flag.
- If you discover unauthorized electronic transactions, stop communicating with the scammer, report the problem to your bank, freeze your accounts, and consider placing a fraud alert on your accounts and your credit reports.
When Should You Consult a Consumer Protection Lawyer?
If you are one of the many victims of online romance scams, identity theft, or other cybercrimes involving unauthorized electronic transfers, you have rights. After you report the theft to your bank, you might want to file a police report, an FBI report, or an FTC complaint. If you do, be sure to provide copies to your bank. If your bank doesn’t perform an investigation or refund your money, contact the dedicated team of identity theft attorneys at Schlanger Law Group.
We offer free case consultations where we’ll listen to your story and explain how we can help. We may be able to represent you on a contingency basis, so you will only pay attorney’s fees and costs from any recovery we are able to obtain on your behalf. Call (212) 500-6114 or fill out this online form to schedule your appointment today.