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Important things to know about online romance scams

Cybercriminals go to great lengths to exploit and trick people into disclosing personal and financial information. Unfortunately, a common tactic used by fraudsters – romance scamming – has been growing in sophistication and success in recent years. Since 2019, reports of these online scams have increased by nearly 25%. With more than 57 million people using online dating apps in the United States, these attacks are only expected to grow.

Thankfully, as more data emerges about these scams, experts have been able to identify red flags to help people avoid them. Read on for important information about romance scams, and tips on how to safeguard your personal information (and emotional well-being) against them.

What is a romance scam?

Simply put, a romance scam (also known as an online dating scam) is when a person is manipulated into believing they are in a genuine, romantic relationship with someone they met online, when they are actually being targeted by a cybercriminal using a fake identity to exploit their trust and gain access to their finances.

Some of the most common romance scam scenarios include:

  • Fake dating websites – these sites may outwardly appear genuine, but they serve as hotspots for scammers to extract personal information.
  • Military romance scams – this is when a scammer will pose as a deployed military service member, asking for money to cover military-related expenses.
  • Photo scams – this is when scammers try to convince their target to send personal information in exchange for intimate photos.
  • Inheritance scams – these occur when scammers manipulate their target into believing that they need to get married to receive a familial inheritance. They will often ask for money to cover airfare.
  • Sugar daddy scams – these occur when a scammer poses as a wealthy individual who wants to send money in exchange for online companionship. Once they have won your trust, they will often ask for a fee or personal information before they send you your “allowance.”

These are just a few of the many ways cybercriminals seek to trick vulnerable individuals. However, many of them follow a similar timeline:

  1. First, the cybercriminal makes contact via a fake profile online.
  2. They gain trust and move the relationship along at a fast pace.
  3. They ask for money. Once they receive it, they disappear.

Fortunately, there are tell-tale signs that a person initiating an online relationship may be a cybercriminal.

Warning signs

  • They say they are very far away. Scammers will often lie, saying they are working on an oil rig, they are in the military and deployed overseas, they are working on a top-secret project outside of the United States, etc. If they say they are abroad and cannot meet in-person, be wary.
  • Their profile seems too good to be true. Cybercriminals do a lot of homework before identifying potential targets, including looking at social media sites to scope out common interests, past jobs, etc. If their identified hobbies and interests match too perfectly with yours – have your guard up.
  • They want the relationship to move at a very fast pace. Scammers have one goal in mind, and that is to gain access to your finances and personal information. With that being said, they know how important it is to gain your trust quickly. If they profess their love early on, ask you to marry them, or make big promises about your relationship, these can be big red flags to watch out for.
  • They claim they are in need of money right away. Usually, once they have gained trust, they will ask for money to cover expenses such as airfare, travel visas, medical expenses, gambling debts, or even family emergencies.
  • They ask for specific (and insecure) payment methods. If they ask you to send a wire transfer, preloaded gift card, or transfer to a newly opened bank account in your name, go back to one of the fundamental rules about fraud prevention: do not send money to anyone you have never met.

If you keep these warning signs top of mind, your likelihood of falling victim to a relationship scam is considerably lower. Remember: approach online relationships slowly and with caution, be careful about things you share online, do not ever send compromising photos or personal information, and report the incident if you feel you are being targeted by a cybercriminal.

If you have been a victim of an online scam and your financial information has been compromised, time is crucial to prevent or minimize financial loss! Please contact us immediately at 505-889-7755 ( 800-347-2838 outside the Albuquerque area) or visit us at any of our branch locations.

For more resources on how to protect your identity and finances online, visit Nusenda Credit Union’s Security Center on our website.