How to Avoid a Heartbreaking Scam

Have you ever heard of the term “catfish”? The Oxford dictionary defines it as “luring someone into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona”. Sometimes the offender is uncomfortable revealing their looks, life status or true personality and the result is a few shed tears and a lost “relationship”. Other times it’s criminal and the consequences can be much more harmful. It’s important to do our due diligence to make sure we’re making connections with the right people.

What is a romance scam? Romance scams, like catfishing, target vulnerable individuals by establishing a trusting relationship to access personal information. Criminals typically use dating sites, apps, chat rooms, and social media to make their connections. Once, they’ve earned someone’s trust, they exploit it by nonchalantly asking for money, personal information, or login credentials for secure sites. These requests are often backed by presumably legitimate reasoning—they need money to visit their sick mother, they want your address and birthday to send you a birthday present, they want to access your bank account because they can give you money advice. Even if the request makes the victim uncomfortable, they often feel hesitant to report it due to feeling a sense of obligation to their “friend” or they’re simply embarrassed to acknowledge they fell for a romance scam. You are not alone, these are common and criminals know how to play on emotions. We encourage you to report the scammer if you identify red flags similar to the ones below.

Red Flags:

  • They quickly profess their love for you.
  • They request money for urgent matters: medical expenses, travel, charities, debts owed, etc.
  • They ask for any amount of money, login credentials, or personal info.
  • They claim to be in the military or live in another country.
  • They are constantly unavailable to meet in person.
  • The camera on their phone or computer isn't working.
  • They get on camera and its blurry so you can't see their face.
  • They say they are waiting for a large settlement but need cash now.

Actions you can take:

  • Discuss the situation with a trusted, unbiased friend or family member before you send money or give personal information, no matter how pressured you feel.
  • Report the person to the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
  • Cease contact with the scammer as soon as possible.
  • If you've given money, file a police report at your local police station.

The important takeaway is to know that you are not alone and embarrassment can be overcome. These are professional criminals that master their scam and they will continue to rob people of their trust and their money if they aren’t stopped. By looking out for these red flags and taking action, you can protect yourself and potentially protect others from heartache. 

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