The FBI reports that cases of confidence fraud have risen dramatically in recent years. Confidence fraud occurs when a scam-artist gains the trust of an unsuspecting victim with the intent to defraud them. One of the most common methods of this type of fraud is through online relationships.
In 2016, “Confidence Fraud” resulted in losses of more than $230 million. Over 15,000 cases were reported to the FBI, and hundreds, if not thousands, more went unnoticed and unreported. That averages out to about $2,600 per victim. For people above 70, report losses exceed $10,000 on average. In some instances, people have reported losing as much as $2 million or their entire life savings in fraud.
People of all ages and backgrounds are potential victims of confidence fraud, but the numbers show that romance and online dating scams tend to target older people and senior citizens more often. According to the Federal Trade Commission, most victims fall between the ages of 40 to 69.
We all know the feeling. Butterflies fill your stomach when you’re talking to that special someone, you may start to think with your heart rather than your mind and as a result you could be ignoring the warning signs. It can be difficult to notice, especially if you’re in the midst of what appears to be a budding relationship and that's what makes it ripe for fraudsters to manipulate.
In this day-and-age of internet communication, faceless correspondence, and online dating, it’s important that you stay safe from those who would try to manipulate you for their own personal gain. We want to make sure you're equipped to handle a situation should you suspect that you're a vicim of possible fraud.
Here are a few tips on how to detect and avoid online deception:
Do not give money to anyone you’ve never met in person. This is a good general principle, but especially with online dating, if someone asks for money, it’s a good sign they are a scam artist. Fraudsters often use common stories such as a medical emergency, personal bankruptcy, or being stuck overseas with no money to get home. Most scam artists will build the relationship before ever bringing up money, and usually will pretend to be embarrassed and shameful that they’re even asking to appear more truthful. Romance scams are usually long-term. Scammers are just trying to build rapport and trust with their victims before they bring up money.
2. Background Checks:
Fraudsters rarely are who they say they are. They will use fake names, fake emails, and fake pictures to convince you of their false persona. If you begin talking to a new person through chat, run pictures through a reverse-image search engine, such as TinEye or Google Images.
Check their email address at a site like Romance Scams, which compiles lists of email addresses belonging to known scammers. Be sure to check out websites like Scamalytics which maintains a blacklist of scammers who use false pictures. Use a search engine to search for the name of the person you met online and see what comes up. Real people will typically have an online fingerprint whether it be a social media profile or a LinkedIn.
By reviewing their online presence, you may get a sense of whether what they are telling you matches with the facts. If someone isn’t online, it doesn’t immediately mean they are lying or trying to defraud you. However, most scam artists will not have a regularly used personal Facebook, for example.
3. Use Your Common Sense:
In these situations, your common sense and your instincts might be the best way to tell if someone is acting unethically. Certain behaviors would likely lead someone to believe that a person is not who they say they are. If someone makes regular excuses as to why they can’t see you, it likely means they are trying to hide something. Common false stories are that they are in the military and stationed overseas, have a sick family member, or got into an accident on the way to see you. One or two instances don’t make for a trend, but your common sense will tell you if a pattern is repeated, there is probably a reason why.
4. Ask Friends and Family:
Find a friend or someone you trust and explain your situation to them. Be open to their perspective and the possibility that your relationship may not be what you think it is. Be willing to take their advice. Family and friends usually want what’s best for you and to make sure you’re happy and safe.
What to do if you’ve been scammed:
In the event that you fall victim to these types of scams, the best thing to do is immediately contact law enforcement. The FBI has a division, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which handles these types of situations.
Unfortunately, the likelihood that your money will be recovered is low. If it is indeed a scam, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to ever recover your money. Be wary of third-party, private entities that claim to be able to recover your money. Often these services are also scams.
Although Florida Credit Union does monitor transactions for things that may be out of the ordinary, it never hurts to be vigilant about your finances and your love life. Ultimately, you bear the responsibility to preserve your finances.