Sad to say, but there are some scammers out there who will prey on people who are lonely, empathetic, or sympathetic.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the romance and friendship scams department. Romance- and friendship-related scams cost Americans almost $150 million last year alone.
A romance or friendship scam involves someone posing as a potential date, lover, or friend online. Pretending to develop a deep emotional connection, whether romantic or platonic, with the victim, the online scammer uses those emotions to ask for money, gifts, or other favors. In some cases, these scams can go on for months or even years!
Learn the telltale signs that you’re being catfished or falling prey to a romance or friendship scammer.
Let’s say you’re playing a game on a popular mobile app, like Words With Friends. Every day, you have fun building connections with people all over the world. You play with one user every day, who says he lives far away. Over time, you build a bond and talk frequently.
One day, he tells you that his wife is dying in the hospital and he needs help with medical bills in order to save her. He is in the military and lives overseas, so he’ll need you to send the money via wire transfer, such as MoneyGram or Western Union. Because he’s in a foreign country, he doesn’t know many people nearby, and you’re his last hope.
This is a common type of friendship scam. Online scammers will feign interest in you as a person, building a fake bond until they can suddenly pretend there’s an emergency that requires your immediate attention. Even if you are suspicious, you’re worried that it might be true. After all, you’re a nice person, and you don’t want to be responsible for a tragedy, right?
Or, imagine you’ve just been through a rocky marriage and stressful divorce. You’re frustrated, lonely, and looking for love. You join an online dating app and receive messages from someone claiming to be a local woman. She tells you everything you’ve ever wanted to hear and then some.
But in order to meet up with her, she wants proof that you’re real. She wants you to send your personal information, or send iTunes gift cards to help her get back on her feet after a tough financial situation and a divorce of her own.
See the pattern? Someone is feigning interest in you and telling you all the “right” things. If you’re divorced, she’s divorced. If you’re religious, he’s religious. If you admire the military, suddenly he’s a service member. If you are lonely, so is she.
Take note of anything that sounds fishy or too good to be true. As with most things, when it comes to romance scammers and friendship scammers, it probably is.
First of all, prevent victimhood through a romance scam or friendship scam by not sending any money to begin with. Don’t send personal information, such as your ID or Social Security number, either.
If you have already become a victim, contact your credit card company, bank, or other financial institution to try to get a refund or put a hold on your account. If you have fallen victim to a more serious crime like identity theft, go to www.identitytheft.gov and follow the relevant steps. You can also contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for help in learning what to do after becoming a victim of a romance scam or friendship scam.