“Anima Sarah Lavoy” | Photo by Kris Krug via Flickr/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
NEW YORK – Valentine’s Day may have passed, but scammers are still on the lookout for victims.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection has alerted people about online dating scams known as “sweetheart scams,” scammers pretend to be dream partners and instead steal personal information and money from victims. According to Federal Trade Commission statistics, overall losses in this kind of scam are about $200 million a year.
“During the pandemic, people may be feeling especially lonely due to prolonged periods of isolation, leading people to seek connections online,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. He encourages New Yorkers looking for an online love connection to follow basic safety tips to avoid losing their hard-earned money through false promises.
How to Spot a Sweetheart Scam
Although almost any age group can be lured into this scam, the number one target of sweetheart scams is usually men and women over age 40. Seniors, especially widows, widowers, and recent divorcees, are particularly vulnerable to this kind of manipulation. However, it’s important to recognize that scammers will target anyone they think they can exploit.
Scammers will go to great lengths to create the illusion of someone you would be attracted to and trust. They often use pictures from the internet for their profile and may disguise their voice on the phone. To build trust with their victims, scammers will want to talk or message several times a day and may even send small gifts to express their deep affection towards their victims.
A frequent tactic is for scammers to claim to live a long distance from their victim, often an American abroad or a deployed soldier. This allows the scammer to draw out the relationship without having to meet in person. Some scammers may eventually propose an in-person meeting, claiming they will travel to see you, but there will be a last-minute emergency preventing it from happening.
Eventually, the scammers will request a large sum of money, usually as a loan, to be wired to them for things ranging from business investments, property, debts, illness, and more. They may even ask for money for airfare so they can visit you. Once they receive the money, the scammer will often ask for more or create a new reason they need to borrow money. This will continue until the victim becomes suspicious, at which point the scammer will usually stop all contact and disappear.
Here are some tips to protect yourself from online dating scams:
- Never give or loan money to someone that you have not met in person.
- Do not give out personal information to someone online, especially if you have not met them before.
- Use trusted online dating sites but still exercise caution.
- Be cautious of people you meet online who say they are an American abroad or a deployed soldier.
- Schedule a video-chat early in the relationship to ensure they are the person they are presenting in their profile.
- Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. If it is linked to another name or details that don’t line up, it’s likely a scam.
- Avoid people online who ask for money, even if it’s due to an emergency or a traumatic life incident. They are almost always scammers.
If a consumer has fallen victim to a sweetheart scam, they are encouraged to file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection. Consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection.