Editors Note: Below is an editorial by Social Catfish, an online people search and verification service. In it, they share their knowledge of how to identify and prevent ‘romance scams’ — a type of account takeover technique that fraudsters use to gain access to sensitive personal information about someone, which they then use to blackmail them. It is a version of the increasingly common ‘sextortion’ scam.
Romance Scam Demographics: Who’s More Likely to Become a Victim to a Romance Scam?
Everyone has dreams of finding their soulmate, falling in love, and living out they’re happily ever after. Because of this, people look to make dating easier by joining online dating sites, thinking that they’ll match with someone with their interests and fall in love. However, this isn’t always the case.
Scammers lurk online dating sites searching for people who are desperate in finding their forever love and who also have money. They form relationships with people who they know are desperate for love and rush into saying that they love them and want to be with them forever. This allows for them to gain their victim’s trust, to where they can perform romance scams on them easier.
What are Romance Scams and How Do They Work?
Romance scams happen when scammers create fake social media or dating profiles online using stolen pictures of attractive men, usually those who are in the military. These scammers are often from Nigeria. With these profiles, they message older women who are newly single and go off of a playbook of phrases to get their victims to fall in love with them.
Once victims fall in love with their scammers, they get the mentality to do what they can to help them whenever they need something. Scammers know this and take advantage of their victims’ kindness by asking for small amounts of money, then increasing the amounts once they gain their victims’ trust. They then never talk to their so-called partner again once they drain their bank accounts, leaving them heartbroken and alone.
These romance scammers usually leave signs that you can look out for so that you don’t become their next victim. For example, if they always make excuses as to why they can’t video chat or meet with you then that could be a sign that they aren’t being honest with who they say they are. They usually work out of the country in the military or oil rig so that they can have an excuse as to why they can’t meet you in person. If you notice these two major signs when talking to someone new online, block them and don’t continue talking to them. This will save your bank account and feelings from being crushed.
What is the Rate of Romance Scams per State and Age?
The amount of romance scam cases vary state by state. While some states may not have as many catfishing cases, there are states that are more highly populated where many cases are reported. The IC3’s 2019 report shows that California is the top state with the most cases (2,206). Followed by California are Florida (1,363), Texas (1,287), and New York (931).
Not only did all of these people get catfished, but also the victims in these states lost a lot of money. Romance scam victims in California lost a total of $107,853,977, in Florida $43,500,838 was lost, in Texas $32,414,594 was lost, and in New York $19,695,267 was lost.
If you take the money amount lost and divide it by the number of victims in each state, we get the average amount of money lost by victim. In California, the average amount lost per victim was $48,891.20, in Florida the average amount lost per victim was $31,915.51, in Texas the average amount lost per victim was $25,186.16, and in New York the average amount lost per victim was $21,154.96.
If you’re in the age range of 18-99 years old, it is definitely a good idea to watch out for romance scams since they do affect all age groups. However, according to the FTC, if you are between the ages of 40-69 years old you need to be more careful since that is the age group that has reported losing more money. It was more than twice the rate of people who were in their twenties.
What is the Romance Scammers Playbook?
A few Nigerian scammers were interviewed about their experiences scamming people and why they scam. Their country is corrupt and it’s hard to get the money for what they need, so they have resorted to scamming women in the United States out of their funds.
To do this, their bosses come up with a few phrases for the Nigerian men to say to these ladies in order to impress them. These compiled phrases and conversation starters compile to make the romance scammers playbook.
These playbooks have different sections of what to see in each different situation. For example, some scam playbooks are different depending on if the scammer is talking to someone for the first time or if they’re following up with responses on what the victim is saying. There are also some playbooks that are split up based on if the scammer wants to say “hello”, flirt with the victim, if they wanna be funny, or want to get to know the victim.
These playbooks usually have spelling or grammatical errors, and usually ask a lot of questions about a victim’s interest. If you notice that someone you’re talking to is copying and pasting a script, is using poor English, keeps asking questions, or tries to move too fast with you chances are they could be using the scammer’s playbook.
How Can You Be Safe From a Romance Scammer?
When talking to strangers online to meet your perfect match, make sure you video chat with them or meet them in person to see if they are real or not. Also, make sure that they are not using the scammers’ playbook and they are using correct grammar when messaging you. Even if they have perfect grammar, do not give anyone you are talking to any personal information. There should be no reason as to why someone needs your SSN or financial information.
If you suspect that you have been talking to a romance scammer, report it to the site you are talking to them and block them immediately. If you’ve given them any money, contact local authorities to report it to them, and they could maybe track where your money went. You can also file a report to the F.B.I.’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).