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By Citizen Reporter


How to spot an online romance scam

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, some people might be blinded by love in their search for ‘The One’.

While there are women who love being spoilt with roses and chocolates on Valentine’s Day, this yearly treat can cost you dearly if you don’t go into your relationship with open eyes and a clear mind.

We’ve seen how Netflix’s Tinder Swindler conned several women out of their hard-earned cash and the last thing you want on Valentine’s Day is to find out that you have been the victim of a heartless romance scammer.

Online dating has never been more popular, which makes it a risky adventure for those seeking love. But there are ways to spot a scammer and red flags to look out for.

Romance scams on the rise

Data from the Federal Trade Commission in the United States showed that in 2021 reported losses to romance scammers were up nearly 80% compared to the previous year.

This was followed by an alert issued by the FBI which noted victims of romance fraud lost $1 billion in 2021 alone.

While current reliable figures are difficult to establish, romance scams, both in South Africa and across the globe, are likely to be underreported because of the personal nature of the crime and victims’ feelings of embarrassment.

According to the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) some terror groups have been targeting South Africans to finance their criminal acts through romance scams.

It also reports that online dating scams are used by fraudsters to launder the illicit proceeds of crime.

In 2021, eight suspects were arrested in Cape Town in connection with an online dating scam and stealing more than R100 million from victims in various countries.

ALSO SEE: Five money lessons we can learn from the Tinder Swindler

How to spot a dating scam

  • When visiting online dating platforms, be aware of photos that look too good to be true. An image search on Google can help you determine if the photo is authentic or a stolen or stock photo;
  • Other red flags include requests for private information such your ID number, declarations of love alarmingly early in the relationship, or a request for money to help them out of a situation;
  • Another new trend in 2022 was an increase in reports of romance scammers luring consumers into fake cryptocurrency investment schemes;
  • Dating scams all rely on gaining a victim’s information, and a common modus operandi is scammers using emotional manipulation to get a victim to send money, gifts, or personal information;
  • Another common, and extremely traumatising, form of deception is sextortion. This begins as a seemingly normal relationship before the scammer pressures the victim into sending intimate photos or videos which are used as material to blackmail the victim; and
  • Catfishing is another common trick scammers use which lures the victim into a relationship based on the attacker’s fictitious online persona. Once the victim is on the hook, the scammer will send messages about being in financial trouble with promises to pay the money back later.

Carey van Vlaanderen, chief executive officer at ESET Southern Africa, has these tips to protect your feelings and your finances from romance scammers:

  • Scammers seldom ask for money at the beginning of an interaction. Instead, they may express money worries in casual conversation or use financial trouble as a reason not to meet;
  • Carefully consider the decision to leave verified dating apps to message privately. Not only does this give the fraudster access to your mobile number, but dating apps also provide mechanisms to report scammers and unsafe behaviour;   
  • Don’t send a person money, no matter how convincing their story may be. Talk to someone you know and trust for their perspective on the situation;
  • Never share any information that may compromise you, including photos or videos; and
  • If you decide to meet someone in person that you’ve met online be sure to set up the meeting in a safe, public place, and ensure a trusted friend or family member is aware of your arrangements.

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