Valentine's Day is when many people's thoughts naturally turn to love. They want to feel they are special to someone. Unfortunately, that desire is one romance scammers count on, no matter your relationship status.
Romance scams are tricky because they typically involve manipulation and tactical lies that take advantage of someone’s love and affection. It may not happen to you, but maybe to someone you care about.
Staying educated on these scams is another way to strengthen your digital safety and security.
How common are romance scams?
In 2021, the FBI Internet Crime and Complaint Center received more than 1,800 complaints of romance scams within the first quarter of the year alone. Similarly, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports over $500 million in loss from romance scams, with gift cards and cryptocurrency being the top two types of payment involved. The FTC added that the median loss reported by victims of romance scams was $2,400.
While those numbers might sound intimidating, romance scammers are easier to spot than you might think.
Tips to avoid romance scams
Here are some strategies to thwart romance scammers:
1. Recognize the signs of catfishing
Catfishing is the process of using a fake persona on social media and dating apps to lure someone into a relationship. Thankfully, there are red flags that can help you spot potential catfishers. They will often offer the excuse that they do not have a working webcam or mobile phone so you can’t see their actual face. Also, they are typically vague when discussing their address. Yet they tend to put the relationship on the fast track and declare love for you almost immediately to gain your trust. These online relationships can be long-term and often lead to the forwarding of money or other assets once the catfisher seems more like a friend or a lover than an online stranger.
2. Open those e-card love letters cautiously
A trick romance scammers love is the infected e-card, especially one sent from a "secret admirer." If you find one of these e-cards in your inbox, avoid clicking any links, even if you recognize the sender. Rather than relying on an embedded link, it is far safer to visit the card company's website and open the message there. Similarly, be suspicious of any Valentine's Day-related emails or Facebook messages that contain links to seemingly benign quizzes, surveys or special offers. Clicking on unknown links could download a malicious app that will infect your device or expose your personal and payment information.
3. Shop safely
Scammers will use the pressure of Valentine’s Day to strike even though you're in a great relationship. If you’re scrambling for a gift for your love, stay protected by using strong online shopping practices. Go to a specific retailer's website rather than doing a Google search for a present and following the link from there. Scammers are adept at creating bogus websites designed to collect your credit card information. See if the site is secure by looking for the padlock symbol and “https” in the URL. Watch for misspellings within the URL that could indicate someone is trying to spoof a well-known site. Remember, if an ad or email offer seems too good to be true, it usually is. Finally, if you have any suspicions of an online seller, check with the Better Business Bureau for any reports of scams linked to that website or domain.
While romantic movies often celebrate throwing caution to the wind in search of love, don't let your good emotions lead you into a romance scam this Valentine’s Day. Being wary of potential threats can keep you one step ahead of scammers and save you a lot of heartache later.