Online Romance Scams: How to Identify and Prevent Them?
Did that romance scam break your heart or maybe your pocket?
We live in a world where the thought of being lonely hits every day, otherwise why else would we have virtual dating apps, social media romance and not so latest to join the bandwagon of virtual marriages. As indispensable social media is to the millennial, scams in every shape and form are deemed to happen. And fraud by someone you met virtually and developed a relationship with are the ones that rip off not just your bank balance but also your heart.
Or so it happened with a Pune resident in 2021, when she met someone while playing a virtual game. What started as a friendship online soon turned to a kindled romance and later to the transfer of funds to the “online” friend. Before she could even question the “online” friend’s intentions, she realized she was out of ₹15 lakh in just two years of meeting the person. She reported the incident to the police and it was later confirmed that she was the victim of an elaborate and sophisticated online romance scam.
So, is it true love or true crime that you are getting into with the virtual dating app you so fondly navigate every day?
The year 2021 2021 reported an 80% jump in romance scam cases over 2020 and in the last five years more than $1.3 billion were lost in such scams in the US alone, according to a report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). And 33% of the total romance scams happened on social media alone. This staggering figure is not meant to scare you but definitely alert you.
One might wonder if there is any way to identify scammers who are masquerading as your perfect match online? Well, if you haven’t been romantically scammed yet, then you are in luck, as we have curated just the listicle for your attention that will prevent you from falling into the trap of such fraudsters.
Identify Signs of romance scams
- Profess love too quickly
You meet someone online, spark an interest and start a conversation, where you share your likes and dislikes. The conversation goes on for days and out of surprise, your online friend professes to love, or in some cases even proposes marriage. All this without meeting the person physically even once.
What does it tell you? Like it or not, a scam is not its way to rip you off your heart and money.
- The NRI lie of a romance scammer
By far the most common online romance scam to surface and make headlines is the NRI scam. Your online friend is most likely to lie about living overseas, while in truth, the person might be living in the same country, or worse, the same city. They might refrain from meeting personally on the pretext of long distance.
Such lies mushroomed during Covid-19 when romance scamsters found the best period to fake their identity, take the relationship forward before they are ready to ask for a money favour, or in some cases claim extortion in exchange for personal information. These scamsters initially masquerade as high-profile individuals such as a doctor, in the military, working in an oil rig etc.
- Want you to pay for some expense through a lie
Once the romance blossoms, your online friend will cook up a lie, usually small where they would very conveniently, and indirectly ask for money favours. Such lies usually relate to asking for a plane ticket, customs fees, visa charges, gambling debts, by saying they will pay you back. But we all know how this end, neither do you see your money back nor the one who breaks your heart.
- Claims to need money for an emergency
Your online friend aka scamster might put you in a tough spot by asking for a money favour for an emergency. These fake emergencies can be finances for surgery, accident, family issue etc. Moreover, they would ask you to transfer money by wiring, gift cards or reload cards, rather than the usual bank account transfer to keep themselves safe and prevent the reverse transaction.
All the above scenarios will reflect a sense of urgency. Be it pretending to fall in love or asking for a money transfer. Every incident would seem like there is a hurry. And that is the biggest catch.
What to do in case of an online Romance Scam?
Do not get Scammed!
Well, easy for people to say this, but falling into a trap and getting mugged in the name of love is trickier than it sounds. Let’s understand how to prevent it from victimizing you.
If you suspect a romance scam, follow the following:
- Stop communicating with the person you are suspecting, immediately.
- Do not wire the person money and do not send them gift cards.
- Talk to a trustworthy person, who can be your family or a friend, tell them about the concern you are facing and how you got into the situation.
- Do your own search by the details your ‘online friend’ has shared with you. Look for the job type, employer, country they claim to live and their social media life. You might find something which will rest the case in your favour and save you from undergoing the entire trouble.
- Perform a reverse image search of the “online friend” to check if they are associated with some other name or personal details that somehow do not add up.
- Raise your voice on social media about such scamsters, to make others aware and prevent them from becoming victims.
- You can also report the cyber fraud to the Cyber Crime Reporting Portal in case of monetary damage done to you by the fraudsters.
Spread the word and raise vigilance. Most people shy away from sharing their stories or reporting the fraud of online romance scams for the fear of being judged, questioned, mocked by others. While vigilance is the key to preventing such scams, someone somewhere might still fall into the trap of such frauds. What makes the front seat here is how aware you are of these situations and how soon you identify something fishy, while not letting your vulnerability hold the steering.