It was purely an online connection – a dalliance into digital romance with hopes of leading to something real. She met him on a dating site where he stood out among all the other suitors. They would never meet in person, but she still fell in love and wanted to make him happy. After a six-month virtual fling, she was out more than $100,000, and he was nowhere to be found.
It’s called a romance scam, sometimes referred to as “catfishing” because of the virtual fishing line scammers cast to hook their victims, who are predominantly older widowed or divorced women. The scammers, who claim to live outside or across the country, learn everything they need to know about their victims from their social media posts.
It may start small with a request for $50 for a bus ticket, and then expand into a $40,000 loan request to cover a medical emergency; and it goes on from there. They promise to repay the victim but, after a lot of procrastination, they vanish into thin air.
If you make a romantic connection online, don’t go any further until you consider the following:
- Take it slowly and ask a lot of questions.
- Use online searches to crosscheck the person’s profile and photo to see if they appear elsewhere.
- Be suspicious if the person is quick to want to leave the dating site or social media to communicate “offline.”
- Beware if the person is quick to proclaim their feelings of love.
- Beware if the person claims to be a U.S. citizen but is working overseas.
- Be suspicious if the person offers multiple times to meet in person but always has an excuse when he can’t.
- Be suspicious if, for whatever reason, you haven’t met in person after several months.
- Never send money to anyone you haven’t met in person.
If any of these red flags pop up, you may be involved with a scammer. Stop all contact immediately and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.