When you meet someone new through a dating app or other online platform, the excitement about a new prospect can lower your instinct to sense when something is amiss.
Instead of questioning what would ordinarily be suspicious, you might explain it away.
But here is why you should be skeptical when communicating with someone you’ve met online.
If you are lucky, the worst of it will simply be that profile photos are not an accurate reflection how the person you are communicating with really looks.
If you’re unlucky, though, the profile is a work of fiction, and the scammer is using it to get money out of unsuspecting suitors.
They will hook you with attention, the appearance of great wealth or business success, common interests, or brave stories of their military service.
But when the conversation turns to loans, wiring money, sending cryptocurrency or temporary cash advances because of a dire situation, that’s your cue that your online sweetheart is a trickster looking for easy money.
Before you think it can never happen to you, consider the statistics. According to the Federal Trade Commission, nearly 70,000 people reported a romance scam in 2022 and the reported losses were a staggering $1.3 billion.
More than 19,000 people in California fell prey to romance/confidence scams in 2022 with losses totaling more than $775 million according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Report.
California is a breeding ground for scams of all types and the state tops the list for having the most victims according to the FBI report. In California alone, victims lost $2 billion to fraudsters last year.
The most common line tricksters use to ask for money is that someone they know is sick, hurt or in jail. If your online romantic interest asks for money, slow down.
Here are common lies romance scammers use to get money or information to extort you as reported to the FTC.
• Someone I know is sick, hurt or in jail.
• I can teach you how to invest.
• I’m in the military far away.
• I’m in a faraway country completing a lucrative business deal.
• I need help with an important delivery.
• We’ve never met, but let’s talk about marriage.
• I’ve come into some money or gold.
• I’m on an oil rig or ship.
• You can trust me with your private pictures.
Before your heart goes soft, follow these tips:
• Do not send money or gifts to anyone you do not trust or have not met in person.
• Do not agree to receive money, cryptocurrency or packages and send it on to someone else. You could be opening yourself up to becoming a money mule or an accessory to criminal conduct and committing crimes yourself.
• Scammers will move the conversation off the dating app to avoid detection by the dating site.
• Don’t believe tough-luck stories requiring money. Ask questions and be aware of inconsistencies.
• Use Google image search to check your online sweetheart’s photo. If the same image shows up with a different name, be suspicious.
• If you decide to meet your online suitor in person, meet in a public place the first few times and make sure a trusted friend or family member is aware of the meeting.
Remember the saying about not judging a book by its cover? That applies in online dating. Ask questions and be aware that sometimes a person’s character may not match their profile photo.
As your district attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the District Attorney’s Office and the public to keep you safe.
I hope these consumer and public safety tips have been helpful.
Summer Stephan is district attorney of San Diego County