Love is in the air. Or so it would seem, as we stop and smell the roses on another Valentine’s Day.
While spending time with a loved one during Valentine’s Day is a wonderful experience for millions of Americans, it’s also a reminder for thousands of people who have been tricked out of money in a romance scam.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports in 2019, Americans lost more than $200 million in romance scams. And that figure is just what was reported. Many people won’t talk about their losses because they don’t want to look foolish.
So, what is a romance scam? Simply put, it’s a scam used by criminals to gain someone’s trust through a relationship to get money from the victim. Typically, the criminals build a bond with the victim online, then make up a story to ask for money.
Stories the scammers use often include details of living or traveling outside the United States. The FTC reports some common storylines to explain their location:
- working on an oil rig
- overseas in the military
- traveling for medical purposes or with a medical group
According to the FTC, the scammers often ask their victims to help fund:
- a plane ticket or other travel expenses
- surgery or other medical expenses
- customs fees to retrieve something
- gambling debts
- a visa or other official travel documents
- a foreign official to release a loved one from custody
Scammers, under the guise of a romantic relationship, typically ask for money to be wired overseas or ask the victim to load money into gift cards like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, or Steam. This is done because the scammers can get the cash quickly and remain anonymous. They also know those types of transactions are almost impossible to reverse.
So, what can you do to avoid losing money to a romance scam? The most important thing to remember is to never send money or gifts to a romantic interest that you haven’t met in person. And even if you have met them, take a step back if you find they have started using stories about being out of the country, away from the area for long periods of time, or if they tell stories about money issues they’ve encountered.
If you suspect you’ve been contacted by a romance scammer, stop communicating with them right away. Take note if they seem pushy about needing money quickly. That’s a pretty common sign that you’re being scammed. Listen to your family or friends when they ask questions about your new love interest, or they tell you they’re concerned about the relationship.
Use your investigative tools to search websites about romance scams. If you’re in a long-distance relationship with someone who says they work on an oil rig, search for oil rig romance scams, and compare your story to the stories you’ll find.
If you think you’ve been scammed, contact your local police or sheriff department or contact the Federal Trade Commission. Peoples State Bank takes identity theft and fraud seriously. You can learn more about identity theft and fraud at bankpeoples.com, or at the FTC website.