Online romance scams expected to surge during pandemic-era Valentine’s Day

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — Experts anticipate an “unprecedented rise” in online romance scams this Valentine’s Day.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, romance scams occur when a scammer convinces the individual into believing they have a “trusting relationship, whether family, friendly, or romantic.”

As a result, the victim is persuaded to send the scammer money, items of value, or personal or financial information. Sometimes victims are even persuaded to launder money on the scammer’s behalf.

Romance scams can happen to anyone at any time, the FBI says. However, individuals looking for love and companionship are the target victims in this type of online fraud.

A recent study from Social Catfish shows scammers will likely target people who have been “lonely and isolated” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts say to be cautious of the following tactics that scammers use:

  • Saying they cannot meet due to COVID-19: Experts warn that a catfish scammer will come up with a variety of excuses of why they cannot meet, such as pretending to be in the military overseas. The coronavirus pandemic gives them an automatic excuse.
  • Refuses to video chat: Be wary of someone who says they cannot video chat with you. Scammers will provide numerous excuses such as having a broken video camera or limited access to WiFi.
  • Requests money from you: Scammers often ask for money after developing an “emotional connection” with their victims. During the pandemic, scammers have reportedly said they are sick and need help with treatment, or are in need of food, water, and other supplies.
  • Using poor grammar: Experts say to be wary of a person who claims to be American but has terrible grammar. They could be a scammer.
  • Someone who confesses love quickly: Be cautious of someone who moves too fast. Scammers will often use sweet words to win victims over.

Internet users are also encouraged to take the following precautions to avoid becoming a scam victim:

  • Never give money: Do not give money to someone you’ve met on the internet for any reason.
  • Meet in-person or video chat: Do not form a relationship with someone who will not video chat with you or meet you in person. 
  • Do not share your personal information:  Scammers often use your basic information to commit identity fraud.
  • Conduct thorough background checks: Do not take anyone’s word at face value. Use reverse look-up sites to verify information, images, email addresses, phone numbers, and online profiles.
  • Take things slow: Some romance scammers will be pushy about falling in love right away. If that is the case, you should know something is not right.  

The FBI says criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do.

They spend hours practicing their skills and often keep journals about their victims to better understand how to manipulate and exploit them.

Scammers will watch potential a victim’s social media account or utilize information from their online dating profile.

The scammer will often “share” likes, hobbies, and the same interests as their victim.

The Federal Trade Commission claims that Americans lost $201 million to romance scams in 2019, according to the Social Catfish study. The FBI reported over $605 million in losses among 23,000 victims in 2020.

The study also revealed that, in recent years, Ohio has ranked ninth in the nation for most romance scam victims.

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