As we prepare for Valentine’s Day, we would like to take the opportunity to share a new trend in fraud – the Sweetheart Scam. Unfortunately, this fraud is often not reported due to embarrassment by the victim. The persons perpetrating the fraud are professional cons and are very good at manipulating their victims, often receiving $10,000 plus before the scam is stopped.
The bank has noticed an upswing in this type of fraud and would like to help educate our customers as to how this occurs, and what you can do to protect yourself or a loved one from such a scam.
Wikipedia describes this as “a Romance Scam – a confidence trick involving feigned romantic intentions towards a victim, gaining their affection, and then using that goodwill to commit fraud. Fraudulent acts may involve access to the victims' money, bank accounts, credit cards, passports, e-mail accounts, or national identification numbers or by getting the victims to commit financial fraud on their behalf”.
How it works: Stolen Images
Scammers post profiles, using stolen photographs of attractive people, asking for others to contact them. This is often known as catfishing. Letters (& emails or instant messages) are exchanged between the scammer and victim until the scammer feels they have groomed the victim enough to ask for money. This might be requests for gas money, bus and airplane tickets to travel to visit the victim, medical expenses, education expenses, etc. There is usually the promise that the fictitious character will one day join the victim in the victim's country. The scam usually ends when the victim realizes they are being scammed or stops sending money. Victims can be highly traumatized by this and are often very embarrassed and ashamed when they learn they have become a victim of a scam and that the romance was a farce.
Steps to take to protect yourself:
Run image searches of profile photos at images.google.com or TinEye.com to see if the image of the person that you are connecting with belongs to multiple profiles across the internet. Keep in mind that in an effort to entice women, scammers often use photos of men in the military, while attractive young women, particularly models and adult-film personalities, are used to attract men.
Never share your online banking credentials, including passwords. Especially beware of scammers who want to send you money by making a deposit through mobile banking – often submitting a fraudulent check and then asking you to forward the funds via wire transfer or through a purchased gift card to assist with medical bills. By the time the check is returned as fraud and deducted from your account, the funds that have been sent are unable to be retrieved.
If you encounter a scammer, immediately report the user to the dating service that you may be using and the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Sources – Wikipedia, AARP and FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center