Spring might be in the air, but that’s no reason to be reckless with your heart (or your wallet).

For anyone who thinks that a “romance scam” is akin to a person putting their pre-lockdown photos on their dating profile – it is, unfortunately, far worse. While online dating is one of the most common ways to find love these days, dating apps and websites and social media sites have transformed into hunting grounds for scammers looking for vulnerable victims.

The consequence of being woo-ed into a romance scam, for the victim, is unfortunately worse than just heartbreak – it’s also breaking the bank. In 2021, the FTC reported that the median individual loss was $2400, with record losses reported that year — $547 million was sent over to scammers under the guise of romance.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, reported losses in 2021 were more than six times what they were just four years prior – with threat actors capitalizing on peoples’ rampant loneliness, according to the FTC.

According to Jennifer Cook of the National Cybersecurity Alliance, there are plenty of red flags to look for when you’re getting to know someone online – but the biggest concern is when the person on the other end starts looking for cash.

“We would say the biggest red flag to look out for is a request for money, especially if it’s in the form of gift cards, crypto or wire transfers,” Cook said.

Additional concerns, according to the NCA, include:

  • The person requests money for urgent matters, such as medical expenses or a plane ticket. Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
  • Scammers will often request hard-to-track forms of payment, like wire transfers or pre-loaded gift cards.
  • The person claims to live far away from you, often in a foreign country. They might also say they are in the military and serving overseas.
  • The relationship seems to be moving very fast.
  • The person breaks promises to see you in person.

Anyone in the online dating world can become a victim of a romance scams. If you suspect a family member or friend might be a victim, you should speak up, according to Cook.

“For someone whose loved one might be in a romance scam, they may want to pay attention if the online romance seems to be moving very fast, or if the scammer is making and breaking promises to meet in person,” Cook said. “If someone is talking to a loved one about romance scams, it’s important for them to approach the topic without judgement or shame. Shame makes romance scam victims afraid to seek help. It’s also important for people to know that romance scams aren’t always easy to spot.

The NCA is hard at work to make sure that the number of victims and dollars lost finally decreases. Here are some tips they offer to ensure your love its true:

  • Share with care: Think before posting about yourself and others online, especially on social media or online dating services. Consider what a post reveals and who can see it.
  • Check your settings: Consider setting your social media profiles to “private”. This will make it harder for scammers to target and communicate with you.
  • Think before you click: Be wary of communications that push you for immediate action or ask for personal information – this could be a phishing attempt. Never share personal information through email, especially if you do not know the sender.
  • Use reverse image search: If you think you might be talking to someone online who isn’t presenting themselves honestly, do a reverse image search of the account’s profile picture. You may see that image belongs to a completely different person, or has been affiliated with different online identities. If this is the case, there is a high chance the person behind the fake profile picture is trying to scam you.

Looking for more tips to be more secure in your interactions? Head to staysafeonline.org for more from the NCA.

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