Valentine’s Day is fast-approaching and love is very much in the air. B🤬ds however are online and taking advantage.
There are a few different names this blight goes by with ‘Cat Phishing’ and ‘Romance Scams’ being the most common. Let’s talk about what these are, how they work and how you could help yourself return those criminal Valentine’s to sender.
What’s a romance scam?
Romance scams occur when criminals adopt fake online identities and try to gain a victim’s affection and trust.
These crooks tend to use email or instant messaging as their preferred medium of communication. They play on the victim’s trust and desires for love and companionship to create an illusion of romance to manipulate and/or steal from them.
In a lot of cases these scams are all about money and tend to last a long time. The scammers rarely go for the “big score”, instead slowly taking relatively small sums of money from their victims over that period.
Most recently, the Tinder Swindler on Netflix shows us just how successful these crooks can be.
So how does this all happen?
The scammers trawl social media and dating sites looking for victims. They’ll spend a bit of time reviewing their victims’ posts and profile to gain insights into their likes and dislikes so they can craft a persona which will make attractive bait.
Once a connection has been made the scammers will put in a lot of effort to cultivate the relationship over a period of weeks and months, often telling their victims that they’ve fallen for them.
Ironically based on many accounts these scammers are often more reliable than genuine articles, if they say they’ll call or message you at a certain time or date, they will. I read an article where one victim described her scammer as the most punctual man she’d ever been in a relationship with!
In comes the hook
It’s at this point they start to ask for money. In a lot of these scams the crooks will pretend to be geographically far away from their victim, making it difficult for real life dates. In the before times (pre COVID) when the scammers had planned to meet their ‘loved one’ they’d fail to show, stating that they were arrested at the airport, caught in an accident, family emergency, etc. All of which they would need money to address, and their victim would be the only person they could turn to. The money would ‘cover’ things like medical and funeral expenses, bail, fines, the list goes on.
Throughout the pandemic and with travel restrictions still in place, it’s actually made it easier for the scammers to come up with excuses not to see their victims in person and there has been a huge spike in romance scams. It’s also given the crooks new ways to get money from their victims. Fake invoices for example may be sent to the victim to release ‘gifts’ which have been held by couriers or customs.
How to lose a romance scammer in 7 ways
There are a few different things you can do to spot that someone is trying to take advantage of you which we’ll cover in a moment. The most important thing however is to remember not to blame yourself. You’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, and you shouldn’t feel stupid. These people are professional tricksters who will spend weeks/months gaining your trust and friendship.
1. Listen to friends and family
In a lot of cases an outsider may see that this ‘relationship’ is off; love is blind after all. Be open to friends and family who try to warn you and don’t shut them out. Scammers will often actively try to drive a wedge between you and your friends and family: “they don’t understand what we have”, “they’re just jealous”, “love conquers all”. This tactic enforces the ‘bond’ between you and the scammer.
2. Cut your losses
This is much easier said than done but once you realise you’ve been scammed, cut your losses and walk away. Don’t call the crooks out and do not give them an opportunity to explain. As we said before they are professional tricksters and can in all probability win you over. Report the scam to the authorities. You probably will not get any of your money back, but you may help stop these awful crooks getting to someone else.
3. Get support, but watch out for the double tap
It’s not un-common for the scammers to reach out to you after you cut ties. They may pose as law enforcement or a support group, asking you to share details so they can help you to recover the money stolen from you. Be wary of these cold call tactics and approach local law and support groups directly.
4. Reverse image searches
A tad stalkerish but when you do receive a new connection request, take the image, and run a reverse search on it. You can find details on how to do this here. You’re looking for anywhere else this image has been used and ensuring that the name matches.
5. Social media stalking
Do some stalking yourself and look at their social media presences. Have they used someone else’s identity? How long have their account(s) been active and what have they posted? Accounts only a few weeks/months old with little content can be red flags but not always.
6. Pet Names
Scammers tend to have multiple victims on the line and will often use pet names. It reduces the risk that they’ll use the wrong name in conversation. Look out for your new love interest giving you a new pet name.
7. Look out for Phish-y links
When the scammers ask you for money they often want scratch cards, vouchers, etc. Reason being these are as good as cash, very hard to get back and do not require a delivery address. When the scammers send you gifts that get caught in ‘customs’ or with the ‘courier’. The link provided is often malicious. Look out for random small courier companies. If they claim to be from a big name (DHL, UPS, etc), do not click the link provided. Make your own way to the site and input the tracking info. If it’s genuine then it’ll have a match. If it’s a scam the tracking number won’t work.
So don’t get swept away with your new romance this Valentine’s day – be safe and be vigilant.