New online scam pulls on heartstrings and purse strings.
The fraud is named for the way scammers feed their victims with promises of romance and riches before cutting them off and taking all their money.
It’s run by scammers who use dating apps and other social media to find victims. Thanks to the use of forced labor, these scams are becoming alarmingly popular.
In 2021, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 4,300 complaints related to crypto-romance scams, resulting in more than $429 million in losses.
Scammers contact people via text messages or social media, dating, and communication platforms. They’ll simply say “Hi” or something like “Hey Josh, it was fun catching up last week!” If you respond to say that the attacker has the wrong number, the scammer will strike up a conversation, making the victim feel like they’ve just met a new friend. They may host a video call with you, their new “friend.”
Victims all have similar stories: The scammer gains the confidence and trust of the victim by pretending to be a new friend, and then claims to have knowledge of cryptocurrency investment or trading opportunities that will result in substantial profits.
The scammer directs the victim to a fraudulent website or application for an investment opportunity. After the victim has invested an initial amount on the platform and sees an alleged profit, the scammers allow the victim to withdraw a small amount of money, further gaining the victim’s trust.
After the successful withdrawal, the scammer instructs the victim to invest larger amounts of money, often saying you need to “act fast.” When the victim is ready to withdraw funds again, the scammers create reasons why this cannot happen. The victim is informed of additional taxes or fees that need to be paid, or the minimum account balance has not been met to allow a withdrawal. This entices the victim to provide additional funds.
Sometimes, a “customer service group” gets involved, which is also part of the scam. Victims are not able to withdraw any money, and the scammers most often stop communicating with the victim after they cease to send additional funds, ultimately losing it all.
Signs That It’s a Scam
Scammers PRETEND to be from an organization or a business you know, like a utility company, a tech company, or even a charity asking for donations. They use technology to change the phone number that appears on your caller ID; the name and number you see might not be real.
Scammers say there’s a PROBLEM or a PRIZE. They might say there’s a problem with one of your accounts and that you need to verify some information. Others will lie and say you won money in a lottery or sweepstakes but have to pay a fee to get it.
Scammers PRESSURE you to act immediately. They might threaten to arrest you, sue you, take away your driver’s or business license, or deport you. They might say your computer is about to be corrupted.
Scammers tell you to PAY in a specific way: by using cryptocurrency; by wiring money through a company like MoneyGram or Western Union; by putting money on a gift card and giving them the number on the back.
Here’s how to protect yourself
- Never send money, trade, or invest based on the advice of someone you have only met online.
- Don’t talk about your current financial status to unknown and untrusted people.
- Don’t provide your banking information, Social Security Number, copies of your identification or passport, or any other sensitive information to anyone online or to a site you do not know is legitimate.
- If an online investment or trading site is promoting unbelievable profits, it is most likely that—unbelievable.
- Be cautious of individuals who claim to have exclusive investment opportunities and urge you to act fast.
Stay safe on social media
- Limit who can see your posts and information on social media. Visit your privacy settings to set some restrictions.
- Check if you can opt out of targeted advertising. Some platforms let you do that.
- If you get a message from a friend about an opportunity or an urgent need for money, call them. Their account may have been hacked – especially if they ask you to pay by cryptocurrency, gift card, or wire transfer. That’s how scammers ask you to pay.
- If someone appears on your social media and rushes you to start a friendship or romance, slow down. Read about romance scams. And never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
- Before you buy or invest in anything, check out the company. Search online for its name plus “scam” or “complaint.”
If you are the victim of any online fraud, you should report the incident to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.