Love fraud is growing across the globe, with financial scammers taking advantage of the lonely-hearted. There were 742 reports of romance scams in the U.S. in 2021, with a total of $64,858,450 stolen. That’s almost double the $35,131,104 reported stolen in 2020 from people blind with love. But there are ways to avoid being caught in a romance scam while using dating apps and social media.
A majority of the victims in 2021 were in Santa Clara county, Calif. There were 188 reports and $21,889,670 lost. The numbers may be higher as some victims may be too ashamed to report that they have been scammed.
More than 200 victims in Colorado and Wyoming lost $32-million-plus between October 2021 and January 2022, the FBI reported. Roughly 60 percent of the victims are over the age of 60.
In Florida, a reported $40.1 million was lost due to romance scams in 2020. There were 232 reports of romance fraud in Florida’s Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in 2021 and $8.4 million in losses. This comes out to an average of more than $36,000 per victim. In Miami, there’s even a nonprofit that advocates and organizes support groups for victims — the Society of Citizens Against Romance Scams.
Romance scams have become so prevalent that Netflix debuted a documentary on Feb. 2, 2022 about a notorious romance scammer.
“Tinder Swindler” depicts how a European scammer defrauded women out of millions of dollars. One of the names he went by was Simon Leviev and the women who did due diligence by Googling him and examining his social media posts found nothing online to make them suspect he was a scammer. His Instagram account, for example, had 103,000 followers and was full of photos of him in private jets, attending business meetings and relaxing on faraway beaches, San Francisco Gate reported.
Leviev claimed to be an Israeli and the son of a diamond mogul. He juggled multiple relationships simultaneously and once he gained a woman’s trust, he would then “suddenly claim his business enemies were tracing his transactions and threatening his life. He needed to borrow just a few thousand dollars. Then a few thousand more,” SF Gate reported. He wound up collecting millions from the women before he was caught.
Scammers tend to target victims who are at least 40 years old, and many victims range from their late 50s to mid-60s. Some are divorced, widowed, or disabled, and the criminals “capitalize” on their “loneliness and isolation,” The Denver Channel reported.
A 13-year veteran of the FBI, Agent Patrick Wyman has investigated, helped solve or supervised about 300 romance fraud cases.
The scams usually follow a pattern. Scammers are affectionate, validating, and extremely attentive. But there are red flags to look for, said Wyman.
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Scammers believe in speed romance, professing their love way too quickly. They are also over-the-top flirtatious. Lying is also a bad sign — they will make up wild excuses for why they cannot meet in person.
If they send a photo you can do a reverse-image search, that might reveal that they are using a fake profile and fake identity, advised Wyman. Also, use your common sense and listen to any doubts you may have.
“Does it seem logical that this person who ‘lives on an oil rig’ is sending you a picture holding a beer can that’s from the ’70s wearing Vietnam-era silky shorts?” Wyman asked.
The biggest red flag should be requests for money. Scammers will claim they need funds to fix an urgent problem. They will ask for gift cards, prepaid cards, wire transfers or cryptocurrency — whatever is easiest for the victim to send, AARP reported.
If you are the victim of a romance scam, report it immediately to the FBI and your financial institution.
Photo: @simonlevievofficial on Instagram