Amanda Horowitz is a writer,
businesswoman and owner
of Fight Back! She is the
daughter of Fight Back!’s
founder, David Horowitz.
Fight Back! has received
multiple Emmy Awards
and awards from more than
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groups, and has helped to
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LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS say that
online romance scams are on the rise. These
scams can result in significant personal financial losses for victims. They can suffer psychological damage; lose jobs, homes and relationships;
or be forced into bankruptcy. Businesses can also
Criminals troll reputable dating and social
networking platforms for targets. They use
tricks to get around online security measures
aimed at combating fraud. Know the signs of
scammers so you can avoid them.
They impersonate. Scammers use stock photos, stolen images, fake names or other people’s
names and personal information to construct an
identity profile. In general, they say they work
outside the U.S., which provides an excuse to
avoid meeting face-to-face. They claim to be in
construction or oil industries, in engineering,
serving in the military or doing charity work.
They create attachment. Experts say that
scammers encourage one-on-one contact with
you away from a dating or social networking site
because this is how they groom their targets.
Conversations via phone, text, chat or email can
go on for months. Scammers send sweet text
messages, poems, cards, flowers and gifts. If a
target’s social networking settings are public,
they can use the information posted to paint
themselves as the perfect match. They profess
true love and might discuss marriage.
They work from scripts to stay consistent,
because they are typically grooming more than
one victim at a time. Unaware, victims are often
being passed among accomplices of a criminal
They have a “crisis.” Once the target is hooked
on the fictional relationship, scammers fabricate
stories to get money. To test the waters, they
might present a problem that can be solved with
a small amount of cash. They might mention an
urgent medical issue or legal predicament. They
might say they were robbed, can’t pay for travel
documents, have a bank account that was frozen
or need a business loan. Accomplices may pose as
a relative, friend, doctor, lawyer, financial adviser
or diplomat to make a story seem real.
Victims believe that alleviating the crisis will
reduce the amount of time they have to wait to
meet their love interest (the scammer) in person. When the money runs out, the scammer
disappears. Scammers might ask for explicit
photos or videos of a victim, which they then use
for extortion. Victims can also be put on a
“sucker list” shared with other criminals looking
They like prepaid cards and money transfers.
Prepaid cards are widely accepted and available.
Once a victim shares the number on the back of
a card or gives a scammer a PIN, the scammer
can access the balance.
Money transfers are a favorite because,
according to one official, there could be go-betweens forwarding the money on to a receiver
who picks up the funds with a fake ID or cannot
otherwise be identified. Romance scams can be
used as a gateway to get victims involved with
other crimes: Go-betweens could be other
romance scam victims.
Victims can unknowingly assist scammers
with fraud by transporting or laundering stolen money or merchandise, or by using stolen
credit-card information. This is called being a
money mule. A variation involves a victim
being used to transport drugs.
Scammers may be in a foreign country.
Getting involved with these individuals can
have severe consequences, like ending up in a
foreign prison, kidnapped or dead. Victims who
decide to confront a scammer to try to get their
money back could subject themselves to further
harm or danger.
Here’s what to do if you have lost money in
an online romance scam:
• Contact your financial institution and/or
the money-transfer service immediately. There
could be a chance of stopping or reversing the
funds if you act quickly.
• File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet
Crime Complaint Center (ic;.gov).
• Report the scam to local police and the
online platform where you encountered it.
• File a complaint with the Federal Trade
Commission ( ftc.gov).
• If part of the scam went through the mail,
report it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service as
mail fraud ( postalinspectors.uspis.gov).
• Individuals across the world can report
suspicious criminal activity to the U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line ;;/;:
;-;;;-;;;-;;;; or online at ice.gov/tipline.
• If a scammer had you pay using Western
Union between ;;;; and January ;;, ;;;;, you
can submit a claim to get your money back at
ftc.gov/WU before February ;;, ;;;;. The
refund program follows a settlement with
Western Union, which in January ;;;; agreed
to pay ;;;; million to resolve charges brought
by the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S.
Department of Justice.
• If you are a victim of one of these romance
scams, experts suggest you seek financial and
To help keep you on top of these and other
scams, sign up for scam alerts at ftc.gov. C
Beware of online romance scams