Names have been changed to protect identities.
In May 2019, "Sophia" met "Aaron" on an online dating site. They hit it off quickly, saying they were both looking to settle down and marry. Over time, Sophia began to trust Aaron, and they eventually agreed to buy a house together before ever meeting in person.
Unfortunately, Aaron created what turned out to be false mortgage documents and emails to lawyers to keep up the act. Sophia took out loans, emptied her savings, borrowed money from her family and friends, and, in turn, sent the equivalent of almost $400,000 to Aaron for the house.
When he asked for additional funds, she became suspicious. She called the bank that housed their joint account and discovered her name was not on it. Next, she contacted where Aaron supposedly worked and found out no one knew who he was. Eventually, she called the police to report she was a victim of an elaborate scam.
The FBI defines a romance scam as "when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim's affection and trust" to manipulate and steal from them. This type of cybercrime is far from new, but recent times have given scammers more tools to help achieve their nefarious goals.
The Federal Trade Commission reported losses to romance scams reached $1.3 billion in the past five years, more than any other FTC fraud category. 2021 alone accounted for $547 million, a nearly 80% increase compared to 2020.
The Covid-19 pandemic is partially to blame for the spike in cases. Romance scams are nothing new, but tactics have changed over the years.
Because of lockdowns around the globe, people are turning to the Internet to find companionship. Dating apps and social media platforms such as Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Facebook, and Instagram are all used to create fake profiles for criminals to woo their victims into a false sense of security.
The scammer will often gather research about their victim to feign interest in the same things and bombard them with affection.
Once a strong sense of love and trust is gained, the scammer can take various avenues to manipulate their way into some kind of financial gain. For example:
The most significant commonality between the different scams is that the fraudster will never agree to meet, citing excuses as to why they cannot come face to face with their victim.
The most common payment method to scammers in 2021 was via gift cards, resulting in $36 million in losses. However, the newest form of romance scams comes in the form of cryptocurrency investing.
Cryptocurrency and the many "get rich quick" schemes have become very popular in the last few years. Cybercriminals are using this to their advantage by romancing their way into the lives of their victims and pretending to be experts in investing crypto.
Once they gain the victim's trust, scammers will offer to help them make easy money by instructing them to buy cryptocurrency on legitimate websites and then invest it elsewhere. The victim can often withdraw small amounts of money periodically to make it look as if the transactions are genuine, but eventually, more fees, taxes, and red tape appear. The "relationship" with the scammer soon ends, and they are never heard from again.
Cryptocurrency has become a popular tool in a criminal's arsenal because it's more challenging to track and often cannot be recovered.
Many organizations, such as the FBI and Interpol, have released documents on protecting oneself from these types of scams, but the guidance remains essentially the same. For example:
Your employees’ attitudes and actions regarding cybersecurity at home will carry over to the workplace. This is why we believe teaching your employees how to be secure at home and at work will help to create a culture of security that strengthens your human firewall and creates a circle of protection that encompasses the workplace. It’s also a great way to show you care about their wellbeing. Please share this article.
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