FBI warns of an increase in online romance scams

Pierluigi Paganini August 29, 2020

The FBI is warning of online romance scams and related financial losses, overall losses associated with those complaints exceeded $475 million.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation warns of online romance scams (also known as confidence fraud), an ongoing criminal activity that continues to cause large financial losses along with emotional effects with unpredictable consequences.

Crooks behind romance scams use fake online identities to establish a contact with the potential victims and gain their trust.

The main hunting spots for these scammers are the dating websites and the social media platforms, they take advantage of people looking for romantic partners with the goal of financially exploiting the victims.

“According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which provides the public with a means of reporting Internet-facilitated crimes, romance scams result in greater financial losses to victims when compared to other online crimes.” reads the alert published by the FBI. “In 2019, almost 20,000 complaints categorized as romance scams were reported to IC3 (about 1,000 more than the previous year), and the losses associated with those complaints exceeded $475 million.”

Upon establishing an online romantic relationship, crooks attempt to manipulate the victims into sending them money or other sensitive or financial information that could be used later in other fraudulent activities..

According to the FBI’s 2019 Internet Crime Report the losses associated with those complaints exceeded $475 million. 

2019 Internet Crime Report

The trend related to financial losses is worrisome, experts continue to observe a yearly increase in the number of victims’ reports. The financial losses associated with this kind of scams were more than $211 million in 2017 and more than $362 million in 2018.

In April, the FBI issued another alert to warn of fraudsters that were taking advantage of the uncertainty and fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic to steal money from the victims and in some cases using them as a money mule.

In August 2019, the FBI published a security advisory to warn of threat actors using online dating sites to conduct confidence/romance scam and recruit money mules.

If you develop a romantic relationship with someone you meet online, consider the following recommendations provided by the FBI’s alert.

  • Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
  • Go slow and ask questions.
  • Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to go “offline.”
  • Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests.
  • Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
  • Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.

If you believe you are a victim of a romance scam, stop all contact immediately and file a complaint online at ic3.gov.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, romance scams)

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