Well, it’s true…but well-intended. Detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Fraud and Cyber Crimes Bureau want to pass on a few tips for Valentine’s Day. No, we don’t have a list of personal gifts or romantic restaurants; just solid, inside information about scams of which you should be wary if you engage in online dating.
Thousands of Los Angeles County residents visit online dating websites each year hoping to find a companion, close friend or romantic partner; 1 out of 6 marriages in the last three years began as an online relationship. But criminals use these sites, too, looking to turn the lonely and vulnerable into fast money through a variety of scams. These fraudulent predators create fake profiles in the name of love to build online relationships.
After scammers gain their victims’ trust on false pretenses, they glean every bit of personal information possible during the ‘relationship’ and use it to gain access to victims’ bank accounts or to commit identity theft. According to information from the Federal Bureau of Investigations Internet Crime Complaint Center, romance scams cost victims a shocking approximation of $120 million in the first six months of 2016!
Unfortunately, many victims do not report the crimes or their losses for fear of exposing embarrassing subject matter, a human emotion of vulnerability upon which these criminals depend to keep their momentum of extortion rolling.
In a unique, first-time approach to address this growing criminal epidemic, Sheriff Jim McDonnell introduced the Love Hurts community forum. The discussion was aimed at informing the public about the fraud and scams snaring unsuspecting love-seekers every day in the online dating world, and to offer an early warning to those who may feel compelled to explore online dating sites.
Representatives from the Sheriff’s Fraud and Cyber Crimes Bureau, Human Trafficking Bureau, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Cyber Task Force who investigate these types of crimes joined the Sheriff at the forum in the Artesia DES Portuguese Hall in Artesia, strategically scheduled on Thursday, February 2, 2017, at the cusp of Valentine’s Day. The law enforcement fraud-busters expanded on the topics of online dating safety, and preventing romance scams and sextortion, an informal term to describe the coercion, or bullying, of money or a broad range of actions from the victim.
Some commonalities found between incidents and recommendations offered at the forum to protect one’s online dating experience were:
Examine profile pictures and question if they may have been stolen from another, unrelated site;
Compare profile pictures to listed physical descriptions to see if they match;
Closely review profile pictures for small details, such as wedding rings;
Ask a series of questions over an extended period of time. Watch for inconsistencies in answers;
Note that many male scammers list their occupations as engineers, and many female scammers list theirs as models;
Conduct online research to confirm information you find matches what is listed in the person’s profile;
Ask specific questions about locales in the other person’s listed city and confirm they match their profile;
Be wary of online daters who ask to communicate by other online means, a common tactic used by scammers;
Check spelling, grammar and sentence structure in profiles; there may be tell-signs the person may be communicating from another country, feigning close proximity;
Never send sexually explicit or compromising images, which can be used as leverage in an extortion attempt;
Be wary of online daters who become affectionate or serious too soon, including the use of pet names such as Babe, Sweetie, Hon and Love;
Be wary of grandiose stories such as princes in other countries who fall in love online and wish to spend their inheritance on people they do not know;
Do not send money, gift cards or wire money transfers.
Above all, listen to your intuition. If something does not sit right, it probably isn’t. If you believe the person with whom you are communicating is a scammer, stop all communication immediately, block their access to your profile, and block their email and phone number. [Editor’s note- AND report them to the site. Most online dating sites strive for customer satisfaction, and they don’t want to get a bad reputation]
“Romance scams are particularly heinous in that they prey upon a person’s need for companionship, and can damage a victim on emotional and financial levels,” said Fraud and Cyber Crimes Bureau Captain Chris Cahhal. “The good news is that the majority of fraud is preventable through education. The hard-working investigators at Fraud and Cyber Crimes Bureau are pleased to be a part of these community forums and hope their efforts will save one of our fellow citizens from falling prey to scammers.”
The internet’s creation brought advantages of access, convenience and speed to our lives, and its presence is well-established in many forums including banking, education, and communication with friends and family. Along with these advantages, come those who wish to exploit them. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is dedicated to preventing internet crimes, and educating the public on internet scams and social media crime.
If you believe you may be a victim of online dating fraud and wired money, contact the wire company immediately to stop the transfer then notify your local law enforcement agency.
To view the Love Hurts forum and discussion, visit: https://youtu.be/Nui4rcQfi4g