Since the COVID-19 pandemic began early last year, online romance scams have increased to unprecedented levels. While most people think it could never happen to them, Americans lost a record $201 million to online romance scammers in 2019, and that number skyrocketed last year due to loneliness and isolation.
SocialCatfish.com released a report on “catfishing during coronavirus” using recent data from the FBI and exclusive interviews with Nigerian romance scammers and victims. These warnings apply whether or not we’re dealing with a pandemic.
1. Cannot meet in person
The hallmark of a catfish scammer is to come up with excuses why they cannot meet in person, such as pretending to be in the military overseas. The pandemic has given them another excuse, which is why they were out in droves in 2020.
How to avoid: Rule No. 1 is that if your online flame refuses to meet in-person after a reasonable amount of time, you are more than likely being scammed.
2. Needs money for an emergency
One of the new wrinkles to the romance scammer game is to ask for money because they have caught COVID-19 and need financial help for treatment. But any request for money for any reason should be a red flag.
How to avoid: While it is normal to want to help if you think someone you have grown fond of is in need, it is critically important to never give money to anyone unless you have met them. If they are indeed in a pinch, they have family and friends who can bail them out.
3. Scammers using non-romantic platforms
A record 26.6 million people were online dating in 2020 and this offers scammers more targets than ever before. However, people have their guard up on dedicated dating sites. As a result, scammers are increasingly contacting people on non-romantic sites such as LinkedIn.
How to avoid: The world is more and more global, mobile, and social, with a person having more touchpoints than ever before. Scammers have gotten more sophisticated and approach people in unlikely places. Beware of online scammers regardless of the type of platform you are on.
4. Pushing love quickly
Capitalizing on victims’ increased depression and loneliness last year, scammers pushed unsuspecting victims to fall in love quickly by citing the pandemic and saying life is short. You may think it can’t happen to you, but these are seasoned professionals, and they know just what to say. Be careful if someone confesses their love for you and demands the same in return right away.
How to avoid: Take online dating slowly. If you like someone online, do not let them pressure you into falling in love right away. Once you do that, they begin their elaborate, yet plausible, reasons why you need to send them money.
5. They can’t video chat
The oldest excuse in the book . . . they cannot video chat with you because their video camera is supposedly “broken,” or they do not have the best access to Wi-Fi. They may claim financial troubles keep them from fixing it which sounds reasonable. The real reason they do not want to video chat is because the pictures of “them” are stolen and the second you have a live video chat, the scam would be over.
How to avoid: As we embark on this new year and with improved online communication options, there is no excuse for not being able to video chat. If they don’t have a computer, or a phone, would you want to date them anyway?
If you think you have been contacted by a scammer, report them to the Federal Trade Commission. ftc.gov.