SOUTHFIELD, MI - February 13, 2018 – A study released by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reveals an estimated 1 million Americans have been victimized in romance fraud scams with losses nearing $1 billion over the last three years. BBB warns those who use dating websites to be wary of scammers who prey on unsuspecting victims.
The study – “Online Romance Scams: A Better Business Bureau Study on How Scammers Use Impersonation, Blackmail and Trickery to Steal from Unsuspecting Daters” – says the scheme can take a number of months to play out as the scammer gains the victim’s trust. The scammer eventually will ask for small amounts of money to feel out the victim. Victims often turn into unknowing accomplices of money laundering. The study recommends that law enforcement agencies share more information about successful romance fraud prosecutions, do more training and prosecute more cases. BBB recommends online dating sites and social media do more to screen, identify and remove profiles used for scams. There also needs to be more support services offered for romance fraud victims.
“Romance scams happen more often than you may think,” said Melanie Duquesnel, Eastern Michigan BBB President and CEO. “It is often under reported because the victims are too embarrassed to say anything. These scams can be both financially and emotionally devastating on the victim. This report sheds light on the importance of showing caution when talking to someone you haven’t met in person.”
Among the report’s key findings:
• There is no “typical” victim of romance fraud. They can be male or female, young or old, straight or gay. The common denominator is that they are seeking a loving relationship, and they believe they have found it.
• Scammers often portray themselves as U.S. military members. Military officials say they receive thousands of complaints yearly from scam victims around the world. Officials note military members will never need money for leave or health care.
• The majority of romance fraud has its home in West Africa, particularly Nigeria. There also are groups that operate in Russia and the Ukraine that employ online dating sites to defraud victims. • At any one time, there may be 25,000 scammers online working with victims. A company that screens profiles for dating companies told BBB that 500,000 of the 3.5 million profiles it scans monthly are fake.
The report was prepared by C. Steven Baker, BBB International Investigations Specialist. Baker is the retired director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Midwest Region.
In his role with BBB, Baker is working with an alliance of five BBB’s in analyzing and reporting on some of the most pervasive fraud issues that impact American consumers. This is his third study released through BBB. A September 2017 study on puppy scams and a December 2017 study on tech support scams he authored each were met with worldwide media coverage.
BBB offers the following tips for daters to avoid being caught in a romance scam:
• Protect your identity and your wallet. Scammers prefer prepaid cards and money transfers. Never send money or any personal information to someone you’ve never met in person. Visiting with someone via a video call doesn’t mean they’re not a scammer. Also, be cautious to not reveal any personal information or do anything you might regret later when using video applications. Some scammers use software to record video calls and then use it to extort money from victims. Don’t succumb to pleas of financial crisis.
• Think before going from public to private. Be hesitant if the conversation moves from a monitored site like social media or a dating site to a more private form of communication like email or instant messaging. This strategy might be a way for the scammer to draw you in without other people interfering.
• Do your research. Pour over the profile image and description. If it sounds too good to be true, verify it. You can perform a reverse image search to see if the profile photo has been used on other websites. You can also copy a portion of their biography and search to see if it’s been used on other sites. Scammers often use the same profile details and photos on multiple sites.
• Ask for details and get specific. Request other forms of identification, like a photo of them holding a piece of paper with their username on it. Ask specific questions about details in their profile. If they claim to be a military member, ask for their official military address as those all end in @mail.mil. Scammers likely will make excuses for why they can’t provide you more information.
• Pay attention to communication. Be wary of bad grammar and misspelled words. No one is perfect, but if mistakes often are repeated, it may suggest they aren’t from where they claim. Be on guard for use of pet names or discussions of marriage early in correspondence. • Report it. If you feel like you’ve been victimized, report it to BBB’s ScamTracker, the Federal Trade Commission and FBI.
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About Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula is a non-profit organization with the purpose of promoting trust in the marketplace by assisting in the protection of consumers and businesses from fraud and unethical business practices. In addition to its recognized dispute resolution services, BBB maintains business reviews on the customer service history of more than 85,000 local businesses and provides consumer education materials on numerous topics. BBB provides its services free to the public and its service territory stretches across Eastern Michigan from Ann Arbor through Metropolitan Detroit, Lansing, Flint, upward to Alpena, and covers the entire Upper Peninsula of the state.