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Monday, February 26, 2024

Focus on Safety – A wolf in sheep’s clothing: Romance scams

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Millions of people use online dating apps or social networking sites to meet someone. But instead of finding romance, many find a scammer trying to trick them into sending money. In 2021, the FBI reported approximately $1 billion in losses. Here in Naperville, we have seen monetary losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As part of our Safer Naper campaign this February, we are focusing on romance scams and how to avoid falling victim to these con artists by exposing many of the tactics they use to deceive and steal from you.

Romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim.

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It is not only on dating websites that these types of scams happen. Con artists reach out on apps and social media (Facebook/Instagram) sites, too. Often, the victim unknowingly reaches out to them first, which is all part of the scam.

Regardless of how contact was made, romance scams almost always follow the same pattern. First the scammer creates a phony profile which often includes a fake picture of an extremely attractive person found on the internet. Once contact is made and after the initial exchange of basic information (work, hobbies, family), they might ask their victims to leave the dating site to contact each other via personal email or instant messaging. The scammer quickly woos the victim using phrases like “love of my life, sweetie, or darling.” They establish trust finding similarities with your hobbies and interests.

This is all part of the build-up to the scam. Pulling at your heartstrings to make you feel like their destiny and love of their life. Then, the scammer will create a scenario and ask you to send money. They might have a sudden financial hardship, such as an ill family member’s medical bills or legal expenses. Or they want to come visit or even plan a wedding and need assistance with travel documents or airfare. Throughout the “relationship” they will always find ways not to meet you face-to-face.

Here are some tips for avoiding romance scams (source FBI):  

  • Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
  • Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere. Crosscheck and verify.
  • Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
  • Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
  • Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
  • Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
  • Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.

If you find yourself, a friend or family member a victim of an online dating or romance scam, stop all contact and block phone numbers, emails and instant messaging. Keep copies of all communication and contact the police department.

Until next month…Stay Aware & Stay Safe.

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Julie Smith
Julie Smith
Julie Smith is Crime Prevention Specialist at the Naperville Police Department. Contact her at SmithJu@naperville.il.us or (630) 305-5450.

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