Millions of people, including credit union members, look to online dating or social networking sites to meet someone. But instead of romance, many unknowingly find a scammer. Cyberspace scammers are eager to take advantage of lonely hearts by setting up fake accounts on social media or dating sites to establish fraudulent relationships and get them to send money. In fact, the median loss of romance/sweetheart scams as reported by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is $2,600 and for people over 70 was over $10,000.
Scammers continue to fake online dating profiles using photos or other people to lure their victims. People reported losing $143 million to romance and sweetheart scams according to the FTC. The scammers strike up a relationship with their targets to build their trust, sometimes talking or chatting several times a day. The scammers quickly profess their love and tug at the victim’s emotions with fake stories and their need for money.
By using popular social media sites – like Instagram, Facebook, or Google Hangouts – scammers make the connection quickly and con their victims into wiring money or sending gift cards from vendors like Amazon.
Another variation is where victims are duped into providing online banking login credentials. The scammer then logs into the account and uses the account-to-account / external transfer feature to initiate ACH debits against accounts at other institutions pulling funds into the victim’s account for deposit or deposit fraudulent checks via mobile remote deposit capture. The victim is instructed to send the funds to the scammer by Western Union or MoneyGram. The ACH debits are subsequently returned to the credit union as unauthorized up to 60 days later, and checks are returned unpaid.
A few red flags of these romance/sweetheart scams:
• String you along but never want to meet in person
• Scammers often say they’re living/traveling outside of the United States
• Hint they’re having money trouble and ask for money, personal info, or
• Often need money for emergencies, hospital bills, or travel.
Risk Prevention tips:
•Review their accounts daily and report any discrepancies immediately.
•Slow down and talk to someone you trust, don’t let a scammer rush or bully you into something.
•Never send money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven’t met in person, never wire money, put money on a gift or cash reload card or send cash to an online love interest.
•If you think it is a scam, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. Be sure to notify the website or app where you met the scammer, too.
Risk Prevention Resources
- Romance Scams – FBI – https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/romance-scams
- Most Recent Scam Alerts – https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts