Your family members and friends may rave about the new relationships they find online, through social media, dating sites and apps, but for every real romance, the number of romance scams continues to grow, warns the Federal Trade Commission.
Imposters create fake identities to build online relationships, and eventually entice their victims to send money in the name of love. Incredibly, some scammers even go so far as to make wedding plans before disappearing with a victim’s money.
It’s a serious problem. The FBI reports online romance scams tripled between 2012 and 2016, and imposter scams were among the top reports to the Federal Trade Commission for both the general population and the military community.
The first sign of a scam occurs when an online love interest asks for money, the FTC says.
Within the military community, imposters steal service members’ photos to create phony profiles. They might claim to be service members who can’t get to their accounts because they are overseas or are in some kind of jam and need money fast.
The Army Criminal Investigative Service (CIS) advises potential victims that the U.S. military doesn’t charge a fee for service members to take leave, get married, communicate with their family, go online, or feed and house service members on deployment – all used as excuses for why scammers ask victims for money.
The FTC reports that scammers re-use service members’ photos again and again and recommends that you research a love interest’s name, photos and details to verify the identity of the person you are communicating with.
CIS frequently warns service members about the latest scams within the military community.
In a release from May 2018, the Army reported a woman asking advice on how to get her Soldier-fiancé — whom she'd never met — back from Syria because the Army deployed him two years ago and had not brought him back to the United States. The woman said she was working with a person in Nigeria to get him home. She said she'd sent this person thousands of dollars, but her "Soldier" still hadn't returned. She wanted to know what the Army could do to help get him home.
Of course, the Army couldn’t help her. Instead, she was told that she had been swindled in a long-running scam. She was advised to stop sending money, cease all contact and report the scam to the authorities. She did not get her money back.
Another variation of this scam involves a claim that a Soldier has been left overseas and needs medical care, the Army reported.
These criminals are ruthless, clever and manipulative. They know how to prey on victims’ emotions. You may think you would never be taken in by these types of schemes. But just think about how much Americans love and trust U.S. service members and you can see how people are fooled.
Before you act in haste, talk to someone you trust. Scammers want to rush you, often by professing love right away. Be skeptical. They can also pressure you to move your conversation off a dating site, if that is the way you are communicating.
The FTC advises:
- Never wire money, put money on a gift card or cash reload card, or send cash to an online love interest. You won’t get it back.
- If you sent money to a scammer, contact the company you used to send the money (wire transfer service, gift card company, or cash reload card company) and tell them it was a fraudulent transaction. Ask to have the transaction reversed if possible.
- Report the scam to the online site and to the FTC.
During Military Consumer Month, the FTC will post weekly tips for service members, veterans and their families about some of the most common imposter scams, and participate in Twitter chats and Facebook Live events with its partners.
For more information, visit www.militaryconsumer.gov.