White lies on dating apps are becoming increasingly common as more profiles enter the market every day. In fact, online dating has officially become the most popular way that couples meet in the United States. As more people jump on the bandwagon, countless people will try just about anything to stand out from the crowd. Some will whiten their teeth on photoshopping apps since plaque can turn to yellow tartar within one day’s time. Others might claim that they went to a more prestigious school or use older, more attractive photos to get more matches.
Few people thought, however, that an online romance could cost them millions.
In one of the largest online dating scams ever witnessed, more than 80 people are facing charges of money laundering, identity theft, and fraud. According to recent reports from the FBI, at least 32 people from all over the world were swindled out of an estimated $6 million by scammers.
The operation was supposedly led by two Nigerian men living in the Los Angeles area. Many of the victims were elderly women, including one Japanese woman who borrowed from friends, family, and even her ex-husband to offer the fraudsters more than $200,000 over the course of their 10-month affair. With over 47 million seniors currently living in the United States, the aged population is becoming an increasingly popular target for online scams.
The funds were sent to accounts in Turkey, the United States, and the United Kingdom. According to the swindled woman, known as FK in Federal court, the fraudsters would email her upwards of 10 times per day and ask her to make the payments. When all was said and done, she gave them between 35 and 40 payments totaling over $200,000.
The fraudsters used a variety of methods to con their victims. In the case of FK, a small romance grew into a scheme to “smuggle diamonds.”
But the scams weren’t limited to romantic affairs online, notes U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna. Hackers were also able to infiltrate company emails, pose as Federal employees, and even funnel payments to their offshore accounts.
“In some cases, the victims thought they were communicating with U.S. servicemen stationed overseas, when in fact, they were emailing with con men,” Hanna explains. “Some of the victims in this case lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in this way.”
A recent survey shows that almost 50% of all internet users in the United States have refrained from online activities over privacy and security concerns alone, and for good reason. It’s estimated that more than 18,000 people were victims of a romance fraud in 2018 with combined losses totaling over $362 million. Now that such a big breach has happened in the world of online dating, how can we keep ourselves safe?
When you’re trying to venture into the world of online dating, here are some of the top ways you can stay safe from scams.
- Never send money: This might seem obvious but countless people fall for these cons. At the end of the day, you should never send money to people you don’t know. Scammers will often ask for small amounts to gain your trust for larger requests. It’s not uncommon for $5 here and there to turn into $100 after a few weeks. Never trust someone that says they’re in financial trouble — this isn’t your responsibility anyway.
- Don’t share personal or financial information: Though questions about your date of birth or where you grew up seem innocuous, scammers will use any information they can to get more information about you. Don’t give out your birthday, your social security number, or even the name of your favorite hair salon online. Even though there are almost 257,000 salons and barbershops in the United States, a scammer might use this information to find out more about you.
- Reverse image search: There’s one thing that almost all online scammers have in common: they’ll never use their own photo. More often than not, they’ll pluck an attractive person off the internet to gain more swipes and start a conversation. Use a reverse image search to see if the image offers any important information. You should also look for inconsistencies in photos, like the presence of tattoos. About 41% of men have at least one tattoo so this can be a great investigatory tool.
- Use verified apps that can connect matches to friends: It’s becoming more common for dating apps to list if you have common connections with other users. These profiles are typically verified by social media accounts where these connections are integrated through the app. If you have a mutual connection, it might be worth reaching out to see if this profile is legitimate.
Sadly, fraud is becoming more and more widespread. In fact, the average company loses 5% of its revenue to fraud every year.
There’s no fool-proof way to keep yourself safe online, but these tips can certainly help. Trust your gut and be sure to report any suspicious accounts you see online.