Country music artist Johnny Lee sang about looking for love in all the wrong places. If social media sites and dating apps had been prevalent in 1980, Lee might have encountered a romance scammer on his quest.
What is a romance scam? You might meet someone special on Facebook or another app. They’re charming, engaging and share lots of common interests. Plus, they spend lots of time talking or otherwise communicating with you – but they purport to be in the military or working overseas. These logistics make it easy to avoid meeting you in person. Still, the perpetrator’s really pulling at your heartstrings. Then the requests for money start – money to buy plane tickets to visit you, to cover unexpected medical emergencies, to invest in cryptocurrency or something else. Part of the ploy is pressuring you to act quickly before you have second thoughts. That plane trip? It never pans out. That promise to repay? It doesn’t happen. There’s always an excuse. And the requests keep coming.
You might believe your sweetheart is real and you can trust them. Not so fast. Scammers adopt fake online identities and build trust before they ask you for money. You might hear from them multiple times a day, all while they’re gaining your affection. That special someone is a con artist, often part of a criminal gang skilled at taking money from multiple victims at a time.
Losses from romance scams are not only staggering, but skyrocketing: The Federal Trade Commission reports that Americans lost $547 million to romance scams in 2021, up 80% from 2020 and up six times from 2017. Cumulatively, $1.3 billion has been lost to romance scams in the last five years. All age groups from 18+ are affected, but people 70 and older reported the highest median individual losses at $9,000. Unfortunately, these losses are likely understated; many victims don’t report due to embarrassment and other factors.
In 2021, scammers were most often paid with gift cards, but other payment methods included wires, bank transfers, cash apps like Venmo and cryptocurrency. Scammers often convince their victims to provide credit and debit card credentials as well as access to online banking accounts.
At Southeastern Bank, we’ve seen customers fall prey to romance scams and some have lost sizeable amounts of money. Here are a few tips to help you avoid getting victimized by a romance scammer:
- NEVER send money to a sweetheart you haven’t met in person and don’t act on their “investment” advice.
- Resist pressure to act quickly.
- Ask family and friends what they think about your online love interest; if they’re concerned, you should be, too.
- Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. If it’s associated with another name or details that don’t match, it’s likely a scam.
- Don’t click on links or attachments sent in emails or texts as doing so may download a virus or other malware onto your desktop or other device. Also keep your internet browser, anti-virus protections and security software up-to-date.
- Safeguard personal identifiable information such as your Social Security number as well as your credit and debit card information, bank account numbers and credentials used to access online banking and other apps.
- In the same vein, don’t open bank accounts or transfer money for such person; you might be unwittingly participating in money laundering, which is a criminal offense.
- If you suspect a scam, STOP communicating with that person immediately. Call the police if you believe you or a loved one are in danger.
If you have been victimized:
- Consider filing a report with law enforcement.
- Contact your bank immediately if your bank accounts may have been compromised or your identity stolen.
- Place a fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion).
Resources to learn more include:
- Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov
- AARP: www.aarp.org
- GA Consumer Protective Services Guide: livesaferesources.org/wpcontent/uploads/2018/06/GA_Consumer_Protection_Guide_for_Older_Adults.pdf
Looking for love? Southeastern Bank hopes you find true love in all the right places.
We wish everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day. This article will be featured in the Money Talks section of Golden Isles Magazine.
About Us: Southeastern Bank, established in 1888, has a long history of serving its customers and communities. From checking accounts and loans to investments and more, Southeastern Bank has the financial products you need most. Southeastern Bank has 10 locations throughout coastal Georgia and northeast Florida that include Brunswick, Callahan, Darien, Eulonia, Folkston, Hilliard, Kingsland, Nahunta, Richmond Hill and St. Simons Island.