Falling in love can be a venerable process, and the rise of online dating presents a window for fraudsters to prey on vulnerable hearts. Through intimate phone calls, romantic texts and personal online messages, con artists pose as wealthy, single men and women. In reality, their ongoing dialogue is a ploy to solicit exorbitant funds.
After meeting online, the scammer builds a rapport and trust with their victim by acting as a source of support and comfort. Predators have increasingly upped their game, using social media to identify vulnerable targets. They usually look for women above the age of 60, who are often widowed or divorced and not digitally savvy. Recently, one woman in Buffalo, NY gave $718,000 to her fake online boyfriend.
The men and women who have fallen for this scheme have lost more money compared other cybercrimes. According to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, nearly $220 million dollars were lost in romance scams across the country in 2016. That's more than double the nearly $87 million lost in 2014.
Given the personal nature of romance scams means that this is a hugely underreported crime. Further, cyber criminals are difficult to catch. In this particular scam, the fraudsters are based internationally or are hiding their identities, making them nearly impossible to prosecute.
Meeting people online can be a great way to build new connections and find love. But, sometimes, a person is too good to be true. We need to protect our hearts - and our bank accounts - before we let someone tug on our heartstrings.