Don't Suffer a Broken Heart and Bank Account by Sweetheart Scammers as Valentine's Day Approaches

Dating apps and websites have become a popular place for online scammers to steal money and senstive information from lonely victims

Protect Your Heart and Your Wallet from Scammers This Valentine's Day
Image: Pexels
February 1, 2019

If you miss your special someone, it's easy to feel lonely and left out of love as Valentine's Day approaches. He might be busy in school. She may have found someone else. Whatever the reason, scammers target lonely and heartbroken people who let down their guard, especially at this time of year. Dating websites and apps can help you find love, but not everyone has the best intentions.

Scams can be easy to spot or well-hidden

Everyone is different. Something very obvious to you may not be so crystal clear to someone you know, which is why it's always a good idea to get a second or even third opinion from friends and family if you're dealing with someone online who seems to be asking for a lot or something unusual. This can be money, gift cards, or sensitive personal information like Social Security Numbers.

Don't leave the platform Right Away

When someone messages you on a dating app and immediately wants you to visit a website for more photos, migrate to a different app, or to start texting a number, you should really have red flags going up. Moving you from one platform to another is a bad idea . While many app and website developers eventually block scammers and spammers, they can't block them if you moved to another platform. They want you to move to something that is less secure and quickly, just in case their accounts are suspended.

If you run into a situation like this, you should probably stop talking. Legitimate people seeking love or even a short term thing typically don't want to move immediately to another platform, let alone give out a phone number without verifying at some basic compatibility and talking for a while.

Sugar is sweet, but attracts ants

Some scams target not only those seeking love but those in bad financial situations. Most of these are pretty obvious, with people messaging you looking for a 'sugar baby,' 'sugar daddy,' 'sugar momma,' or similar. They promise you financial support in return for either virtual or physical love (whichever you want) and something that seems insignificant, such as your routing number and account number in order to send you money. Some may ask for additional information, such as a Social Security Number or driver license number, in order to verify if you are real or 'serious.'

But let's get real here for a minute. Would you search through a dating website, find an attractive person, and just decide to send that person money? While there is surely one truly kind and generous person like that out there, it doesn't happen in real life. A lot of people have reservations spending money on themselves for things they truly need, let alone spending it on a complete stranger.

Information requests that should raise red flags

Most people out there have tried using some kind of dating platform at one time another, whether it was an app, a website, a newspaper ad, or even a social media group. So you should already be aware of the information legitimate people want from you. They typically want to know more about your physical attributes first, followed by information about what you do for a living, where you live (roughly), and your hobbies and interests. Prospective dates and mates don't ask you for Social Security Numbers, Tax ID numbers, driver license numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, etc. Once a scammer gets any one of these pieces of information, it's easy to get enough other information from you in order to open accounts, take out credit, create fake checks, etc.

You should immediately 'swipe left' on anyone that asks you for any kind of information that is sensitive or that seems overly invasive. While your full legal name, home address, mailing address and full date of birth may seem relatively unimportant (the person will know it eventually if you hit it off, after all), it can still be enough information to open accounts or some types of credit.

We Made an Overpayment or need money back

Scammers steal your money by making 'overpayments' and having you send the difference back. While the goal of the scammers is to get both your sensitive information and for you to send money back, they'll settle for one or the other.

You are either sent a check that you deposit or a deposit is made for you after providing your account information. The first one often clears because they are small, but typically use fake information or another victim's information. Even though these payments are small enough to fly under the real account holder's radar, they are eventually noticed and reversed. If you give your routing and account number, you are almost guaranteed to have your information used later against someone else. (Checks and e-checks aren't really that secure anyway!)

At some point, you'll be asked to return money to the scammer. This could be upon the first deposit, but it is often on subsequent deposits after some clear or appear to clear, giving some credibility to the scammer and getting you eager for more. A subsequent deposit is usually much larger, but the scammer might need some of it back to cover an unexpected last-minute expense or it may have been inadvertently made for an incorrect amount. If you were expecting $100 but got a payment for $1,000, the scammers will opt for you to keep it rather than take extra time to cancel and make a new one with the excuse of getting you money faster. But you'll be asked to send the difference back by an insecure method, such as a wire transfer or gift card. Larger deposits typically take additional time to clear, so you might not know right away that you've been scammer. When the deposit bounces or is reversed, you're in the red and the money you sent the scammer is gone.

Some scams go on for a year or more

Many of these scams prey on our human sympathies to want to help in times of need. If you aren't asked for sensitive information or offered money (that you later have to send back), the scammer might groom you for a while. The scammer might carry on lengthy conversations with you on the platform and later via text message and phone call. These types of scammers are more patient and diligent, opting to develop a relationship with you first in order to be able to take more money from you later. Many victims of these scams lose between $20,000 and $25,000 on average, but some lose substantially more.

These particular scammers, who are essential a part of a criminal enterprise, manipulate your vulnerabilities and then take it to the next level with a loving online relationship. Scammers have done this for decades (if not longer) in person, but the Internet has made it easier to reach more people and to better fake identities. After developing a connection with you, the scammer claims some kind of catastrophe, such as a medical emergency or car crash. The victims, doing what they believe is the right thing to do, send money to help. Sometimes there is a financial situation that is preventing a face-to-face meeting, so you send money in order for the scammer to resolve it the problem, complete necessary paperwork, or even purchase plane tickets to come see you.

Scammers pose as honorable

Scammers known that presenting a good face can elicit more sympathy from you. So these scammers often pose as military personnel, business professionals, doctors, or someone else that work or travel a lot in order to delay meeting in person and to elicit sympathy. If you have detailed information in your own online profile or in linked social media accounts, these scammers can create a fake identity that is geared toward your interests and sympathies, which makes the sense of compatibility stronger.

Scammers pretend to be real people

The Internet is a wonderful thing, giving you instant access to information from all over the world. But it gives the scammers access to photos and data from real people that can then be used to create a fake identity that seems real. Scammers can harvest information from a public social media profile to create a fake identity. When you search for and find the profiles yourself, you are more likely to believe the scammer is, in fact, who he/she claims to be.

If the scammer knows you have found the profile or if you say you have sent a 'friend request' or similar, the scammer will likely give some reason you can't connect there yet, such as an ongoing divorce, keeping the relationship secret for a while, etc. The scammer can also use the existing social media account to create a duplicate account, which is known to happen on Facebook but for other scams targeting the user's friends. Be suspicious of accounts that don't accept connections from you, have few or no posts, or that appear to be new. You can (and probably should) reach out via a message to the user when you locate an account and ask if that person is the same person talking to you on the other platform. But remember that if the scammer is operating the fake account, you'll always get a reassuring response.

Ask for your own verification

Some dating apps and websites offer the ability for the user to verify his/her identity, but this isn't always foolproof. Good scammers are able to circumvent these measures and become verified anyway.

If you're talking to a new person and have suspicious (or just want to verify the person's photos are recent and accurate), ask for verification. It's not a good idea to move to another platform right away, such as Snapchat or FaceTime. But you can do something relatively easy that can still be conducted on the platform. State that you've recently received a lot of spam from the platform and you want to verify the person is real before proceeding. Ask for a selfie giving a thumbs up, showing a peace sign, or holding a handwritten message on a piece of paper. If the person is real (and serious), you'll get it. Scammers (and people just trying to mess with you) will come up with every reason in the book why it can't be done right now, such as being out to dinner, driving, or using a phone with a broken camera. If you want to give the benefit of the doubt, get back with the person later and ask for a different message or hand signal since it could be easy for the scammer to do the same thing to another victim and send that person's photo to you.

Never send money or give personal information

Never send money or give sensitive information to anyone you have never met. While it may sound like a simple thing for most of us, it's not so simple for someone suffering from a broken heart. Someone who is heartbroken or desperate for love may not think things through normally, instead running on emotions and not with a clear head.

If a friend or family member may be sending money to a scammer, you should intervene. But be careful to do so in a manner that does not come across as intrusive or even jealous. Love, or the appearance of love, can make us do and say things we would not ordinarily do. So you don't want your friend or family member shutting you and others out while sending thousands of dollars to a stranger. While the victim may not hear your message, he/she might hear the message loud and clear from a group of concerned people who just happen to hear about what's going on while you're all gathered together for dinner or playing cards.

Report All Suspected Fraud

If you have been scammed or even if you think you are dealing with a scammer, you should file a report with the North Carolina Attorney General's Office and to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). In addition to filing a report, you should stop communicating with the scammer to avoid further victimization.