The Federal Trade Commission says romance scams have climbed to record highs in recent years. You meet someone online, you think you’re in love and they steal your money.
Lynette Owens, the founder and global director of cybersecurity firm Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families program, said they see a similar progression with these scams.
“It first begins on a place like social media and may quickly move and be encouraged to move off those platforms in some private way some other private channel," Owens said. “After appealing to a person’s needs and intimacy and closeness…. there is an appeal for help and the person is often persuaded to show that they care about their new love interest by offering that assistance and many times that assistance is financial.”
If you haven’t met your love interest in person, you’re at risk. They may say they are in the military or working or traveling outside the US. They may ask for money to visit you, for an emergency or medical bills or ask you to partner up with them on an investment.
"One of the more common ones that we are seeing now is why don’t you go in on this great investment opportunity with me, whether it be cryptocurrency," Owens explained. "So, it doesn’t feel like the person is being asked by themselves to put up the money, but it’s something they think they are doing together."
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To protect yourself, tighten up your social media privacy settings. Don’t post personal information and don’t accept friend requests from strangers.
And never wire money or send gift cards, cash or cryptocurrency to anyone you haven’t met in person, no matter how compelling their story is, even if your online relationship has been ongoing.
"The asking for money might not happen for several weeks or months," Owne said. "Some of these criminals spend quite a bit of time and invest their energy trying to befriend and become very close to their victim before they actually move to that stage."
Have suspicions? A reverse image search will let you know if photos you’re receiving are lifted from another source.
And Trend Micro has a free tool on its website to help you determine if a link, email, image or audio message is valid.